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!

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

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

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

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

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

On to the day itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Finding the way to the realm of the dead

Last week I did a shamanic style journey with the intention of trying to take the first steps into the realm of the dead.  I wasn’t intending to go in far, just an initial exploratory journey to see if I could make it there at all.

It was successful in some ways and yet has also shown me that I need to do further work elsewhere before I attempt to return.  I have discovered that while Thunderer can and will come into the cave and down the passage to the realm of the dead with me he will not cross the bridge.  Not only that but I have learnt that I may not cross that bridge myself unless I am riding one who can carry me there or am wearing protection.  To me as the name of the person crossing is etching into that mighty bronze span they are bound in some way to that land so if I cross without the right protection I will not return without losing something of myself.

Before we went down to the realm of the dead Thunderer did lead me to another who can and will guide me there and for this first short trip was willing to let me ride on his back but it’s been made clear to me that he won’t allow that often.  So I did get to cross the bridge and stand briefly on the other side.  In the distance in one direction I could see high walls with gates of bones. There were other things in other directions but I could not see them clearly.  The light there to me was that of dusk or twilight with the reddish glow of a setting or rising sun and it’s difficult to see details in that sort of light.  I didn’t go much further than the other side of the bridge and soon returned.  To me also the black river maybe wide but it’s also far below the bridge in a deep chasm.

I have been told who it is I must seek out to gain the right protection to travel further and it’s not a being I have a relationship with at the present.  I know of him but if I am to go back to that realm I must seek him out and ask him for protection.  That may well come with a price too.

When the student is ready…

My mum has often said that “when the student is ready the master will appear”.

For well over a year now I have wanted to learn more about shamanic style journeying and trance work.  This urge strengthened considerably after a ritual experience where I hosted the Cailleach.  Hosting her in itself was ok but the ritual wasn’t wonderfully well organised and there was no formal way of thanking her or saying farewell.  As she left she pulled me with her part of the way before letting go and the aftermath of this experience was difficult for me.  At the time I did have support from Little Raven and Jenny and both of them were a great help.

Afterwards Jenny put me in touch with a seidr worker M of many years experience who lives in Edinburgh.  I had met him briefly before and he had also been at the ritual.  More importantly he was and still is willing to help me.  He was also willing to teach me techniques that would help me in the future but at that time life prevented me from doing more than communicating with him via email and reading up on shamanism.

About six months after the ritual I felt the need to travel to the Cailleach to seek forgiveness for my part in that ritual.  I discussed my plans via email with M and as I wasn’t able to visit him he kindly did the spiritual equivalent of a health check for me at my request before I journeyed to the Cailleach.  The journey didn’t turn out the way I had thought it would be but it was immensely helpful to me.

Since that time I have been undergoing a number of changes.  One of those changes has meant that I now have more time at weekends to do other things and I’ve finally been able to visit M.

I spent a wonderful day with him in Edinburgh.  We talked abut a few things including what I hoped to learn and what I had experienced so far.  He taught me about a technique that day and I had my first experience of journeying to a drum.  The next day I was able to use that technique in a journey for a friend.  And this new area of development for me does not end there.  As well as having time free on weekends myself, M also has free time appearing on some of his weekends so I will be able to visit again and learn more from him.

I feel very fortunate to be able to have this opportunity and Jenny has my deepest thanks for putting me in touch with him.

Direct communications with spirits and deities in ritual

I have been involved in a few discussions on and off line recently about the possible uses of trance in Brythonic rituals to communicate directly with spirits and deities. In this post I attempt to make sense of my current thinking about this topic.

First a word of caution: if like me you are a polytheist this is not a matter to take lightly. Actually it’s not a matter to take lightly no matter what your path! If you do not have the support and back up of other experienced individuals or training in this area than I’d strongly recommend you steer clear of attempting anything related to this until you do have such back up.

My path has not included such training but I seem to be getting it via direct experience. I am very fortunate in that I have had exceptional support and back up for the more intense and deeper of the experiences I have had with this but even so it has been hard on me (and on those supporting me too I suspect). I am extremely grateful for the support I have received.

If this is something that is done in Brythonic groups in the future (and it may not be) then I feel we will need to have a few explicit guidelines about such practices. The following suggestions are drawn both from personal experience, from reading and from the excellent advice I have received so far.

1) Purpose
Every ritual should have a clear purpose and direct communication with spirits should be no different. I do not think it is enough to say we want to communicate with our ancestors for example. I think we need to be specific about why we wish for such communication. Do we have questions to ask? Are we looking for advice on a particular area?

If we are going to try communication with a deity (including invoking their presence into someone) this should be even more carefully thought out.

2) Community knowledge and participation
In my opinion all those taking part in any such ritual should be fully informed about what the intent of the ritual is and be fully willing to take part. If someone present has reservations about the purpose of the ritual they should be listened to carefully. That doesn’t mean the rite won’t go ahead but that person may choose not take part and shouldn’t feel pressurised to do so in any way.

3) The seer/host/medium
What ever you want to call the person who is going to attempt the direct communication they should be willing to do this. In my opinion they should feel able to share any fears or worries about what may take place and any changes resulting from the experience with at least one person there. I think there should be at least one experienced person there who has taken on the role of support or anchor for the one acting as seer or host. This should be someone the seer feels they can trust instinctively and deeply. It would also be a very good idea if the seer was aware of just what they might be asking of their anchor in terms of possible longer term support.

4) The anchor or support role
In my opinion the anchor or support person is perhaps the most critical person of any such rite. This person should be chosen by the seer/host as someone they feel they can rely on. The anchor should be able to observe the state of the seer during and after the rite. They should be able to call a halt to things if they feel there are problems. They should expect that the seer might need their support for a significant period of time after the rite – possibly for days afterwards as they come to terms with what took place. They should know ways of helping the seer recover from the immediate effects of the rite and have an idea about any long term effects the rite may have had on the seer. In my opinion they should also be able to call on every single person that was at that rite for any further support that may be needed.

A further note of caution: In my limited experience the level of trust required for the interaction between seer and anchor may change any previous relationship between those individuals. It will hopefully strengthen and deepen it long term but short term it might (if some part of the rite has not gone very well) result in a level of emotional instability on the part of the seer that might strain any relationship the seer and anchor do have.

I realise for some of those that will read this that these considerations should perhaps be automatically in place but I’m still learning 🙂

I have always learnt more by my mistakes than by those things I get right and my experiences in this area are no exception. I am convinced that if such a rite ever takes place within Brython it will be well planned with a clear purpose and will take place with the informed consent of all taking part as well as with their support. Under these circumstances I am also convinced that many of the problems I have had with my most recent experience simply wouldn’t occur.