Doubt and renewal

For months doubt had been creeping into my feelings about Epona and the Herd Mothers. I hadn’t really noticed any of Her subtle touches in my life. I wondered if in taking time to get to know other deities our relationship was fading and I wasn’t sure if that was my fault or just a natural change.

Doubt is so much more common in people of faith than some like to accept. It’s a normal part of your journey to question and evaluate experiences. Sometimes the doubt gets so strong that you feel you have lost something. You begin to wonder if that being that you thought was so important is really there for you. Perhaps you haven’t seen any signs of them recently, not felt their presence. Perhaps you feel you have lost something, done something wrong or just simply been left. In some cases a relationship that was once incredibly important fades and comes to a natural end. Doubt is natural. Questioning your faith is a part of your growth. The beings I honour don’t want blind faith, they want you to actively choose them. However, sometimes they will take a back seat for a reason of their own, fade from your awareness and let the doubts creep in.

For months doubt had been creeping into my feelings about Epona and the Herd Mothers. I hadn’t really noticed any of Her subtle touches in my life. I wondered if in taking time to get to know other deities our relationship was fading and I wasn’t sure if that was my fault or just a natural change. I kept my devotions going even though at times they felt a bit empty. I also planned a trip that would be something of a pilgrimage for me, a trip to see the Uffington White Horse, a place I had been wanting to visit for many years.

In early March, during my weekly devotions for the Herd Mothers, while I was praying and in particular asking for healing support for a friend’s horse, my prayer beads broke.

Image of my original prayer beads

These were my first prayer beads made for me by my mum, restrung once before by her when they had broken through use. But I can’t get mum to restring them this time. I knew at some stage they might break again as I used them so much but for them to break at that moment was a painful shock. That connection to my mum has gone. I have other prayer beads, other sets that she made, other jewellery that she made for me too but these were special.

In that moment I didn’t know if they were broken as a consequence of my doubts or taken as a price for healing support.

I decided to draw three runes and the runes seemed to confirm to me that this was a price and not a kick in the teeth for having doubts. A forth rune fell down from the plate I keep them on to where I had placed the others and this strengthened my interpretation of this being a price. While this still hurts I have now accepted that this was a sacrifice taken in return for Her aid. The beads, none lost in spite of scattering on the floor, are in a bag on my altar waiting for me to know what to do with them now.

A few weeks later finally the time came for our trip down to Uffington. This was a family trip with my eldest choosing to stay at home for a first experience of being home alone while three of us went South. We had chosen Cirencester as our base for this trip which was more than visiting Uffington and it took us about eight hours to get there. We travelled down on Monday 4th April and returned home on Friday 8th April so we had three full days for more local trips.

The first was Uffington on Tuesday. You can’t see the whole figure from close up. Even from the car park area the top of the next disappears of the hill but still when I got to see my first glimpse standing on that landscape my heart swelled with emotion and I had tears in my eyes. I had made it!

We walked across the fields and up towards the horse itself. As we walked I spotted hoofprints on the path and felt the presence of the Herd Mothers in the land. There’s a rope boundary protecting the horse due to increased erosion but you can still get pretty close. We walked to the nearby Dragon Hill to see if the view was any better. It wasn’t but the winds were wild and cleansing. As we walked down Dragon Hill to climb the other side of Whitehorse hill I noticed a fresh twig of blossoming blackthorn on the ground. I’m sure it hadn’t been there when we went up the path to the top of Dragon Hill. It was freshly broken off from the blackthorn it came from and dropped there like a gift. I carried it away with me. And on Whitehorse hill I made an offering to the spirits of that landscape thanking them for the gift.

From there we walked to the structure known as Uffington Castle. It’s a large hill fort probably originally built in the bronze age and inhabited into and throughout the iron age. It’s one of the largest hillforts I’ve experienced so far and a very impressive location. I was pulled towards the centre of the hillfort area and felt the need to sing out wordlessly for a time. I made another offering before leaving.

After that we returned to the car to get our packed lunch before walking to Wayland’s Smithy. Wayland’s Smithy is a restored Neolithic long barrow about a mile and half away from Whitehorse Hill. It’s surrounded by some beautiful beech trees. I found the presence there to be quiet and gently welcoming. And although it had nothing to do with Wayland or was ever a smithy the links have encouraged someone to add a horseshoe to a fallen beech log near the front of the tomb.

Image of horseshoe attached to a fallen log near the front of Wayland’s Smithy long barrow

Needless to say it felt appropriate to make an offering there too and I poured a little wine from my hip flask over the horseshoe.

It was a good day and by the end of it I felt a sense of renewal in my relationship with Epona and the Herd Mothers which has stayed with me. I feel stronger for this period of doubt and renewal and more trusting in my relationship with Epona.

Hail Epona! Hail the Herd Mothers!


Having a devotional practice of any kind in a very personal thing.  Over the years I have had a few devotional practices. Many have involved song in some way.  some practices have been daily for a period of time, some have been weekly, others less frequently.  Some practices have been for fixed periods of time, part of arrangements between me and the being in question.  My personal opinion is that when a devotional practice ceases to have real meaning to you then it is time to reconsider that practice.

For many years now I have had devotional practices based on the lunar cycle.  I’ve written about them before but essentially at the dark moon I share a cup of tea with the ancestors in silence remembering them.  On the day before the full moon I make offerings to Brigantia, on the day of the full moon I make offerings to Epona Rigantona and the day after I make offerings to my Cailleach.  Last year I also started to light a special oil burner in honour of Maponos each Sunday evening.

Just before Imbolc I took up an invitation to join a flame keeping cill with Clann Bhride. My first experiences have been very good ones. I have found it a soothing thing to be involved in so far and am looking forward to continuing with this practice.

I’ve also started a new devotional practice for Epona Rigantona, it’s perhaps a bit odd but it seems to be what she wants me to do at this time.  I started knitting roses for her.  At first I wasn’t sure what would happen with this but it’s a practice that I seem to be getting urges with connected with the build up to the full moon.

For a few days in March before the full moon I had the urge to knit a rose every day.  I thought I would be giving these away but when the full moon came I had a dozen roses of different sizes and colours and it was clear to me that these would be kept for my shrine areas.  A dozen roses for Epona Rigantona.

A couple of days a go my next urge with knitting roses for Epona Rigantona started to rise (by the way I see both Epona and Rigantona as titles for the same being but accept that this is my vision and may not be shared by others).  This time though I also got a very strong feeling that the roses I would knit were to be posted out.  I have also in between knitted a couple of roses as gifts for others with healing intent and not specifically as devotional knitting.  I was guided to make a list of names for this next batch of roses.  Nine individuals, all of whom I feel should be sent one of the roses I knit for Epona Rigantona.  I don’t even have postal addresses for them all yet but the knitting is progressing anyway.

I do this because I feel I must.  Some devotional practices are ones you choose to do, others are ones that feel requested for some reason not clear to you.  It is a choice you make to follow these invitations, however they come to you.

Seeking Summer

Flash of iridescent blue catches my eye
Damselflies dance round me.
Fat bumblebee hums towards a golden flag
Crawls into the vibrant flower.
Sweet chorus of bird song cascades
while sun’s heat warms my back.
I visit Aspen that called me once before
Walk through long damp grass to the foot
Companions grow round about
Oak, Ash and Thorn.
I recognise now a place of the sidhe
A single word resounds in my mind – Leave!
I move away, then turn and speak
“I meant no harm to come among you.
No offence was meant.”
Leaves whisper in the stillness.
I move on, watch the Heron stalking,
Swiftly strike, then slowly pace on.
Deer coat gleams with bronze lights
I am watched as I watch.
Moth fluttering, caught near thistles
Wing damaged yet freed he flies on.
I hunt summer and find delicate moments
Strung like glowing beads on a necklace.

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.

Acharn Falls

Wrapped by the land 
We were guided by the roar
Of water scouring through the gorge.
Above us a veil of green
Shimmered with light
In the gentle breeze.
Moss covered roots
Like fingers questing,
Rippled down the slopes.
Drawn onwards we walked.
Seekers of magic from a stress filled world.
Clambering over rounded boulders
To reach waters edge.
Like iced tea over my outstretched hands.

Face and hands bathed in coolness
I turned, clambered once more
To sit by water’s roar.
Then once more we quested on
And magic’s promise found
Hidden by tree and boulder
Cauldron and pool we found
Stirred by falling thunder.
Rusted beech leaf fell 
Floating down to cauldron’s bowl.
Caught, swept round, tossed, pounded.
Freedom found, swept down.
Life’s trials mirrored
Released we float until
Tossed once more.
Float and absorb the view.

Druid Forum 2013 – thoughts, feelings and personal opinions

Druid 2013 took place on Saturday 14 September in Wolverhampton.  This was the second Druid Forum event with the first being eleven years previously.  I was at the first Druid Forum although I had to leave early to travel back home so missed some of it but even so that event inspired myself and a dear friend to start up a druid conference in Glasgow called DruidCon.  We ran DruidCon for five years before deciding, for various reasons, that it was time to pass the baton on.  So I had high expectations for this second Druid Forum.  Expectations which were met and surpassed.

I expected to be able to listen to great speakers on a range of topics.  I expected to be able to meet up with people I hadn’t seen for a while and meet face to face some I only knew via the internet.  I expected to have a very enjoyable day and I did.

What I didn’t expect was that the various speakers would re-invigorate my feelings about Druidry.

Others have already written reviews of the day:

Druid 2013 by Léithin Cluan
Druid 2013 by Eilidh Nic Sidheag

And I highly recommend you read them both, two different but overall positive reactions to Druid 2013.

I have in the last few years questioned whether druidry is my path.  I stopped using the label of Druid to describe myself a long time ago and I still don’t think I’m ready to take that label back up but I had also stopped using the term druidry to describe my path. This included a time when I questioned my membership to the Druid Network.  I did decide to renew on that occasion but the following year I let my membership lapse a while before renewing.

I have taken great pride in being a member of Brython walking a path of reconnection strongly influenced by reconstructionist ideas. Brython was a community, predominately held online with a few face to face meetings, but one by one most of that community has moved away.  In my opinion Brython as a community is no more and I find that I have a deep need to be part of a wider spiritual community.  Being part of Brython has literally changed my life, without it I may never have met my dearest love Neil Pitchford aka Red Raven.  The Druid Network also plays a part in our story but that tale is perhaps for anther time suffice it to say that I will always consider myself to be part of Brython even though the active side of that community has faded into the mists somewhat.

So with doubts and uncertainties I returned to the Druid Network and to wandering in the forest of druidry, still not really sure that I was walking a Druid path.  I began to take a more active interest in things of druidry once more but still not really feeling at home.  Neil and I had also talked about trying to become more involved in the Druid Network as a team.  Then came Druid 2013 and luckily Neil and I were able to attend.

Druid 2013 was inspiring and re-invigorating for me.  Four speakers in particular deeply affected me.  These were Philip Shallcrass, Emma Restall-Orr, Phil Ryder and Professor Ron Hutton.

Philip Shallcrass spoke abut his journey with druidry and the British Druid Order of which he is founder.  He spoke of his hopes that one day when someone speaks of modern Druids they automatically include shamanic techniques among the practices of a Druid.  He also spoke of his belief that sound is something that crosses the boundaries between worlds.  Singing is and always has been an integral part of my personal practice and this reinforced a more recently formed belief that music, particularly live music crosses over the boundaries between worlds carrying as it does the emotions of the performer at that time.

The things from Emma’s talk that have stayed with me the most are her talking of her understanding of what Love is deepening over the years, of druidry being in her words “a religion of change”.  My understanding of what she said is that druidry is deeply rooted in the land and environment the individual lives and works in and because it is about connections and relationships as well it must change from person to person, from place to place, from season to season.  She also mentioned sound, if I remember correctly but I can’t remember the exact context.  Her talk brought tears to my eyes, it spoke to me deeply and yet I can’t fully remember what she said beyond those two main aspects.

Phil Ryder spoke of his journey with the Druid Network and how he came to be involved in getting the Druid Network recognised by the Charity Commision of England and Wales as a charity advancing the cause of religion.  He also spoke about his current involvement with the Interfaith Network of the UK on behalf of the Druid Network.  The aspect of his talk that deeply affected me was that all of this came about by one simple and seemingly unrelated decision he made to drive his wife to a Druid Network Groves day several years ago.  Driving his wife there meant that he felt he might as well attend the Groves day and to do that he had to join the Druid Network.  From such a simple decision life changing events occurred.

Lastly Professor Ron Hutton spoke about what he called the real history of druidry as opposed to the mythical one.  This was deeply inspiring. One of the first revivalist Druid Orders, the Ancient Order of Druids was founded in 1781 by one Henry Hurle, in essence a builder.  This new order was dedicated to encouraging musical skills and performances in its member and was open to male members of all walks of life.  It was in essence about forming a community.  Ron went on to talk about the first use of what is now known as the Druid’s Prayer by Iolo Morganwg.  This took place in Wales at a time Iolo was not popular with the authorities and he was, if I remember correctly, warned that holding his gathering would not be a good idea. He and his group of radical souls went ahead anyway with a ring of cavalry soldiers around them threatening to run them down.  Ron explained it something like this:

“Grant, O God, Thy protection;” – meaning  literally protection from the soldiers standing about them
“And in protection, strength;” – literally the strength to keep going when threatened
“And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;” – so that this small group may be treated justly
“And in that love, the love of all existences;” – even the love of those soldiers threatening them
“And in the love of all existences, the love of God.
God and all goodness.” 

And from what Ron told us at that point the soldiers left in shame at threatening such a peaceful group.  Ron also told us of the members of the of the Universal Druid Bond an order with the ideals of peace at its heart, traveled to Libya to stand with a group of Muslims engaging in peaceful protest over the actions of colonizers which were destroying their peaceful way of life.  The thirteen members of that order of druids died with those peaceful protesters in the desert. Most of Ron’s talk was focused on British druidry but in the question and answer session he also mentioned that members of German Druid Orders had died in concentration camps, again for having the courage of their convictions.  This history of people who wanted to create communities that crossed social boundaries (opening up to women as well came a little later but it did come and before many other areas were opening to women too I believe), these people who loved peace so much that they risked and even gave their lives, is incredibly inspiring.  They would almost certainly have been Christian but they were among the radicals of their times with deeply held convictions.  Modern Pagan druidry owes a great deal to these ancestors and we should not forget it.
Key ideas that came out of the day for me are:
  • the need for community involvement and action within druidry; 
  • the role that peace and peaceful protest has played in druidry (and can again);
  • the power of music to cross boundaries between worlds;
  • the profound impact a simple decision can make on your life and the lives of many others;
  • and druidry as a path focused on developing relationships with the environment about us and because of that a path that is unique to each of us, a path of change.
I said earlier that Druid 2013 has re-invigorated my feelings on Druidry.  It is more accurate to say Druid 2013 has re-invigorated my druidry.  And for that I offer my deepest thanks to Geoff Boswell and his team for organising and hosting a spectacular day, to the speakers for sharing their thoughts, experiences and knowledge and to those in the wider druid community that attended and made it such a special day especially those I had the pleasure of spending a bit of time talking with during the breaks.

Altar to Epona

Most of you reading this will know how dear to my heart Epona is and has been for many years.  While she is best known from inscriptions across Gaul there is one that was found in Scotland at Auchendavy which was once a fort along the Antonine Wall.

Last weekend I got the chance to visit the re-opened Hunterian museum at the University of Glasgow and the new permanent exhibition on the Antonine Wall: Rome’s Final Frontier.  The exhibition includes a set of five altars each dedicated to a different deity/being or group of beings and all commissioned by the same individual, Marcus Cocceius Firmus, centurion of the Second Augustan Legion.  One of those is the one that includes Epona and next to it is one dedicated to the Spirit of Britain.

I was simply overjoyed to see these altars and I expect I’ll be going back many times to visit them.

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”.”

“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.”

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.