Patterns of Devotion

I have written in the past about my deepening devotional practices. Today I wish to share with you how my devotions have changed.

I used to honour my ancestors at the dark moon, Maponos on Sundays and, Brigantia, Epona Rigantona and An Cailleach around the full moon.

Then I joined a flame tending cill with Clann Bhride and began flame tending in honour of Brigantia every twenty days.

I can’t even remember exactly when after that point that other things began to change but at some stage I began to honour Epona Rigantona each week on a Friday. I chose a Friday because Epona is my beloved and Fridays in the past have been linked to deities of love (see Wikipedia Names of the days of the week if you are interested).

It felt good to be honouring Epona each Friday so I decided to start honoring An Cailleach on a Saturday. I was now honouring different deities on Friday, Saturday and Sunday plus every twenty days flame tending in honour of Brigantia.

Then Loki came into my life.

I used to consider myself to be solely a Brythonic Polytheist.

Then Loki came into my life!

That bit bears repeating.  Loki brought change with Him.  I wasn’t looking for Sleipnir’s Dam and I didn’t expect or invite Her (at least not to start with) but for some reason best known to the Bound One, He decided to bring Her changes to me.

One of those changes was that I started to include Loki in my weekly devotions.  At first I tried slotting Him in on Thursdays but that didn’t feel right. So I switched to Saturdays, prompted in part by something I had read that suggested Saturdays had been linked to Loki in the past.  I can’t remember exactly what that was now but I switched days and it felt much better.

But it didn’t feel right honouring An Cailleach on the same day so after a bit of thought I decided to move honouring Her to Mondays.  There are aspects in some of the lore which I believe indicate ties to the moon for An Cailleach so this seemed to fit well.

For a couple of moons I tried to keep the lunar links I had made as well but that became a bit confusing as I ended up trying to honour two different deities on one day.  For me that became confusing and I felt I wasn’t doing justice to my devotions to either deity when the days linked into full moon cycles.  I decided drop the full moon devotions in favour of the weekly ones for a moon or two to see how it felt and I’ve kept that change.

So now I honour different deities on four days of the week and another every twenty days. I’m also no longer solely honouring Brythonic deities.  At first I thought maybe Loki would be in my life for a set purpose and then maybe wander off but at the moment it feel much more like the Sky-treader is here to stay.  The current pattern feels good with one exception and that’s the ancestors.

In dropping the full moon devotions I found I began to lose touch with the lunar cycle and the pattern of honouring my ancestors at the dark moon began to slip as well.  I still have my ancestral shrine area and still think of varying ancestors at different times but the more ritualised devotions have fallen away.  I’m still not sure if I need to start on a weekly basis for honouring my ancestors or try and restore the dark moon practice.  I think maybe moving to a weekly based practice would work out best, if so I have my choice of Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday currently free of other devotions. Maybe Wednesday as that day has links to deities of communication.

My journey with devotional practices has not been a swift one but one that has gradually altered to a more frequent family of devotional practices.  And I know that I am still changing and that my practices will also continue to change.

Reflecting

For the last few months I have been absent from my blog.  I didn’t intend to be and I have still been musing on various thoughts and ideas but I never quite got to writing any of it down.  Part of that is due to an opportunity that arose in February for me.  Through my son’s school I had the opportunity to do some online study.  There were three courses available all linked to mental health, all available via distance learning and all free providing they were completed.

I chose to sign up for a Certificate in Counselling Skills course.  This was made available through the Skills Network.  This was a level 2 NCFE qualification for those interested in such things and from what I can tell that’s roughly equivalent to a GCSE (English and Welsh qualifications) or National 5 (Scottish qualifications) level course.  Although this was a distance learning course it still had deadlines for unit assessments the last of which was a few days ago.  I submitted my last assessments a couple of days early and have already received my results.  Subject to final moderation I have passed the course.

Today I am writing this as a reflection on how the process of studying again has been for me, where I am, and, what next.

I enjoyed this course.  I’ve learnt some new things and clarified other things.  I’ve had the opportunity to put my listening skills to the test in an observed session with a volunteer client.  I’ve been encouraged to reflect on my own beliefs and values and to consider how they could impact others in a counselling environment.  I have the teaching materials in the form of booklets and that includes links to further reading material so I have a concrete resource I can go back to in the future.  I have enjoyed stretching my mental muscles a bit more again.  It has been satisfying to know I can still put suitable responses together for assessment purposes.

I’ve also learnt that distance learning suits me, being able to pace myself around my other commitments is vital to me.  At the present time attending college classes at a set time and place is not something I would feel able to reliably commit to, I need flexibility.  I completed the course and submitted all my assessments in good time but there were occasions that I struggled to do so and that’s with a fairly short duration course.

In many ways I would like to go further with counselling skills but I have also had to be realistic about what I am able to do and afford at the present time.  To become professionally qualified I would, from what I can find out, need to study part time for at least another two years.  While I could possibly do some of that studying by distance some of it, particularly the practice of core counselling skills, would need to be face to face.  Such study does not come cheap and owing to my previous qualifications and studies I wouldn’t be eligible for certain types of grants for funding further study.  Realistically I can’t currently commit the time or money to develop my skills further.  Even if I had the funds, I can’t commit the time at present.

The door to further studies in the future is not closed to me.  It is just that at present I can’t take that pathway.

Overall this has been a valuable experience for me in several ways.  I have developed my skills and learnt new things.  I have dipped a toe back into the world of study and found I can still do it.  I have discovered that I am good at listening to people, I had thought I probably was but I have had this put to the test with very satisfying results.  And I have found out that my behaviour in a one to one situation can help to put others at ease which is always a good thing to know.

I think one of the best things to have come out of doing this course has been an overall increase in my personal confidence and a better sense of where I am in my life.

So what next?

I still have my voluntary work with the Riding for the Disabled Association and I have recently learnt that there are opportunities there for further skills development. I intend to investigate the possibilities further.

I have my family which provide me with new, and sometimes challenging, situations to learn from on a frequent basis.

I have my Druidry and there are many opportunities there for development in several ways.

My own mental health may still provide me with challenges from time to time, most recently with anxiety attacks, but I have proved to myself that in spite of losing my job on capability grounds less than a year ago I can still learn new things, develop my skills and be useful!

A Scottish Hearth Druid response to the question of how to respond to the varying issues of Brexit, Trump and increasing xenophobia be?

The subject of this post is inspired by a topic of discussion the the Druid Network members’ message board referred to as “social_dot”.  Reading other responses on “social_dot” felt like a clarion call to me to start blogging again.

Following the Brexit vote in the UK I feel that uncertainties and fears have steadily increased.  Added to the issues in the UK, where I live, has been the impact of changes in other influential countries in the world. Trump has in his first few days in office as the president of the United States of America made a number of executive orders that are internationally unpopular (to put it mildly).  Russia’s parliament has approved changes in legislation that seem to set human rights in that country further and further back.  Wars are rife in the Middle East with many other countries across the world involved and yet we still don’t call it a “World War”. And it seems that many countries are choosing to pick on some group or another as the scapegoats for these problems and in doing so become increasingly violent towards that group.  I’ve never been so scared of what the future will bring and yet I recognise that I am in a very privileged position compared to all too many people in this country let alone the rest of the world!

So what can I do?

One of the things I think we have to try and do is help each other to listen without becoming overwhelmed with everything that is going on.  I doubt that I am the only person I know who is struggling against the desire to “bury their head in the sand” and wait for it to be over.  I know I must not do that but I also struggle with figuring out what I can do. I struggle emotionally to believe that my single voice can make any difference and yet intellectually I know that single voices joined together are very powerful.

I am afraid for the future of my country.  I’m afraid for the future of other countries in the world, I am afraid for my children’s futures within this often chaotic world of ours. I am afraid I can’t do anything to make a difference and yet also afraid of standing by and not trying. I am afraid of being alone in my fears and even more afraid that all too many of us share the same fears.

What can I do? One person, one voice.

I can raise my voice for others to listen to so they know they are not alone.

I can listen.

I can witness.

I can act, even if only to type a few words on a keyboard, sign a petition or refuse to let my fears overwhelm me.

An offering made Kemetic style

Well sort of Kemetic style anyway 🙂

A week and half ago I pledged an offering to the Egyptian Goddess known as Isis.  The details of why I did this are not important to this blog post. I had a slight problem though in that I had never made any offerings to any of the Egyptian deities and as a polytheist I wanted to do this in a manner fitting to what is known of the reconstructed Egyptian path referred to more properly as Kemetic.

First stage of preparation to fulfill my pledge was to do a bit of internet searching and reading.  I also asked for advice in the Glasgow Pagans facebook group and from a couple of individuals I know that are interested in or practicing a Kemetic path.

Key things I found out were that the ancient Kemetic name of the Goddess I had made this pledge to is Aset and that in the Kemetic path it is normal, and considered more polite, to consume any food or drink offerings you make.  That’s not something I am used to doing.  I’m more familiar with offerings being discarded after a suitable period of time once they have been dedicated.

From my limited general knowledge in Egyptian mythology I believe that the written word, especially when then spoken aloud, has a great deal of power.

Gradually I began to build up an idea of what I would do to fulfill the pledge I had made.  I decided to offer food and drink in the form of a meal using foods known to be important in ancient Egyptian times as well as things I felt would fit a special meal.  I also felt that while it would be fine to use the area I use for other devotions I should use a separate small table.

Today I fulfilled my pledge.  I purchased a couple of particularly nice seeded whole grain rolls and some maple and thyme hot smoked salmon.  I cleared and cleaned a small table to use and moved it to my shrine area and placed a flat pillow I use as a kneeling or meditation pad on the floor in front of it.  I went upstairs and changed into a lovely silk skirt I have and chose a jumper of a similar shade of blue to go with it.  Both items remind me of Lapis Lazuli and again I believe that colour and the gem stone had importance in ancient Egypt.

Before I began my meal preparations I lit a stick on Myrrh incense.  I then sat down and decided on the words I would use and wrote them down.  I placed the page on the small table and got the meal ready.  The meal consisted of the rolls I had purchased with the smoked salmon and five Medjool dates. I also made some peppermint tea in one of those  teapots with a single cup that I have.  I placed the plate, teapot and cup on the small table and knelt down before it.

After a short time in silent contemplation I spoke aloud the words I had chosen.  I then sat in silence for a little while and poured out a cup of the tea.

Mindfully I then began to eat and drink.

This experience of sharing a meal I had offered to a Goddess was something new and special to me.  I found it strangely relaxing.  I got the impression that those beings I usually hold devotions for were also interested in this process, in this different style of doing things and that they might wish to engage with me in this way themselves from time to time.

When I’d finished the meal I thanks Aset for this experience and then cleared everything away and changed back into the clothes I had been wearing before I started preparing.

 

These are the words I used to make the offering with names of those I was doing this for removed for privacy:

Hail Aset, Great of Heka, You who are known in the Redlands as Isis, Queen of Heaven!

I ask that you accept this bread, this fish, these dates and this mint tea as fulfillment of the pledge I made to you.

I offer this food and drink in thanksgiving for your protection over one who I believe holds you close to her heart. I know her as xxxxx,  Priestess, wife, mother, and friend of many.

I pledged an offering to you Mighty Aset and I ask that you accept this meal as fulfillment of that pledge.

 

Musings about Brigantia and Loki

I’ve written elsewhere about being a flame tender with Clann Bhride which means every twenty days I light a flame and look after it for twenty four hours as a devotional act.  During my last flame tending I found myself thinking about both Brigantia and Loki both of whom have fire symbology.

Brigantia and Her sister-self Brighid have many links to fire but it seems to me that the link is to a tamed and channeled fire.  The fires of the smith, of crafting tools and artworks; the fires of inspiration burning in our minds transforming imagery and emotion into words and pictures others can see; the fires of justice wielded with fierce discipline to forge a fairer community; the fires of the healer used to brew, to warm, to comfort; the long ago fires of a home hearth bringing warmth and security to our human homes.  She is not the fire itself but the one that wields, channels and tames the fire and in turn teaches us ways to use fire.

Loki is not one that uses fire, instead he is a fire.  He does not teach how to channel the heat, how to use the energy to craft and create.  He transforms. He changes. That doesn’t mean that he can’t direct and wield fire, he can because he knows what he is and so he can choose what to burn, what to transform, whether to be a single glowing ember that waits or a burst of flame that burns.

They are beings of different cultures, Loki and Brigantia, and yet I feel that there can be harmony between them, probably not always, but enough.

Neither being can be constrained into just one aspect of their identities and I’m in no way intending to give the impression that I wish to do that. This is just what musings have come to mind at this time where fire and flame symbologies are concerned.

Where I am concerned I feel they have in some way joined forces.  I need to change but I have a fear of loosing control, I fear the untamed burning and yet I know I need to be pushed forward.

 

An introduction to Loki

Back in January I had a few coincidences with names and images connected with Loki.  I began to feel quite strongly that he was prompting me for some reason so I started investigating.

My first instinct was to to go to an internet community I have been made welcome within UK Heathenry.  My initial contacts with them were via an email list but they are now more active on Facebook.  I have always been open about the fact that I do not consider myself to be Heathen but I do feel that Heathenry is a neighboring family of paths to my own.  In spite of a range of connections with Heathens I’d never felt that any of the Heathen families of gods and other assorted beings had been that interested in me.  Now that had changed so I asked the group for pointers to good articles or blogs.  I got a range of helpful and sometimes lighthearted responses so I started reading and learning.

(This blog post began with the above paragraphs four months ago, today it finally continues)

Loki is perhaps one of the best known and yet also most mis-understood deity among the Heathen families of beings.  Part of that is no doubt due to the fact that one aspect of his complex character has been used extensively in tales ancient and modern as an instigator of all manner of usually tricky situations.  Among his most recent guises is that of the “bad guy” in recent Marvel comics and movies.  From my reading (and I’m in no way an expert on this) it seems that even in Heathen circles the mention of his name can bring about extreme reactions and often negative ones at that.  But He also seems to be a being that has a collection of devoted followers, ones that accept that he is complex and sometimes very difficult to know.

Resources I was pointed to in January that I have found particularly useful are:

Loki’s shrine at: http://www.northernpaganism.org/shrines/loki/index.html

Eldar Heide: “Loki, the Vätte, and the Ash Lad: A Study Combining Old Scandinavian and
Late Material” Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 7 (2011) pp. 63–106. 10.1484/J.VMS.1.102616 available in last proof form at:

http://eldar-heide.net/Publikasjonar%20til%20heimesida/Loke-artikkel%20til%20nettsida.pdf

And Alexa Duir’s series of fiction books that have Loki as a central character.

Things went quiet in late January on the Loki prompts and I began to feel that maybe he had chosen to provide a bit of distraction at a stressful time for some reason and that was it.  Needless to say that wasn’t it.

In early March I started getting some other odd coincidences and prompts which led to me order the first of Alexa’s books (I hadn’t until that point) and also the book “Playing with Fire: An exploration of Loki Laufeyjarson” by Dagulf Loptson available from Asphodel Press. By mid March I’d read six of Alexa’s books and then the book by Dagulf Loptson.

Also in March in a personal front I went off sick from work again with anxiety triggering yet another round of assorted meetings which in the end resulted in my dismissal from work on capability grounds.  Throughout this process Loki has been appearing from time to time in the forefront of my mind and has been a much appreciated distraction from some of the more unpleasant aspects of what has been going on.

On Thursday 21st July I received the final dismissal letter in the post. On the 20th July Dagulf Loptson had posted a new blog post at Polytheist.com called Breaking Loki’s Bonds which I didn’t see until Friday 22nd July.  This post gives information and guidance on a nine day rebirth process and reading that post felt like a personal invitation.

Later that day I gathered the things I would need for this process and the following day, Saturday 23rd July I began.  I may write more about how that process went later but essentially having now completed it I found it to be both powerful and helpful.

Orkney part 3 – Echoes of Devotion

To me Orkney is a place in which the echoes of past devotions take on powerful and tangible forms.  I’ve already spoken of our journey to Orkney and some of the places we visited with our wonderful guides.  In this post I intend to talk about some of the other places we visited both with and without our guides.

Our guides were adamant that we should experience a few of the lesser known and more unusual sites before we would visit Maeshowe on Thusday 7th July so the day before they took us to visit the Tomb of the Dogs also known as the Cuween Hill Cairn, Unstan Cairn and Rennibister Earth House. Many people visit Maeshowe and go away feeling that it is a good example of tombs in Orkney, and so it is in many ways, but it is also very unusual.  It is one thing to accept this with your more logical mind but quite another to visit a wider range of tombs and see and feel the differences.

Our first tomb visit was to the Tomb of the Dogs or Cuween Hill Cairn. This is a small tomb a fair way up the side of a hill.  It’s called the Tomb of the Dogs because there were a number of dog skulls found in it as well as human remains.  To get to it you have to be fit to first get up the hill (which isn’t too bad) and then be flexible enough to get down and crawl thought the narrow passage way into the chamber beyond.  The chamber is large enough for a small number of people to stand in but it is pitch black inside so a working torch is a must. It is an example of a chambered cairn with four smaller side chambers. the side chambers are virtually at ground level and you can look into them fairly easily.  At Maeshowe the side chambers are well above the main floor level and would not be as easy to see into let alone access as the chambers at Cuween.

Personally I felt a sense of pressure while inside Cuween Hill Cairn.  It wasn’t frightening but after a short while I felt as if the spirits of that place were telling me I had seen enough and it was time for me to leave now please.  Definitely well worth a visit if you are physically fit enough to cope with the hill and crawling through the passage.

From there we visited Rennibister Earth House.  A totally different experience.  For a start it’s accessed via the yard to a working farm and via a metal ladder going down into the ground.  This ladder is not the original access, that would have been the long sloping passage.  Originally it would have been closed in and pitch dark but as it was discovered by a machine falling into the roof and now accessed that way it’s reasonably light inside. Human remains were found within the chamber but archaeologists are not certain of the original purpose of the structure.  Around the walls are built in alcoves, not large ones and they look a bit like the alcoves seen in the neolithic houses and in the walls of the older section of Kirbuster farm museum.

To me this place felt as if it had been used for ritual purposes of some kind.  I could see it being used for some sort of rite of passage perhaps.  The atmosphere there was much lighter but mysterious too.

Rennibister earth house

Rennibister Earth House

The last place we visited on that day was Unstan Cairn.  This is a much easier place to access but still requires a bit of flexibility as you do need to bend a bit to go through the entrance passage.  Inside it is a quite different style of structure.  It has some features in common with chambered cairns in that it has a circular shape and a side chamber but other features are more like rectangular stalled cairns such as the one at Midhowe (which we didn’t visit).  It is an odd place, very light because it has a modern concrete roof and unlike other tombs we visited very green from algae able to grow on the stones in the light.  The stalls also add to the unusual atmosphere making it feel to me a bit like an animal barn even though it was very much a tomb still.

Unstan Cairn

Unstan Cairn

The following day we visited Maeshowe.  This is a much larger tomb than the others we had previously seen and thanks to our guides we had a much greater appreciation for the design variations and the atmospheric differences.  For a start at the other places it had been just us and the places themselves were much smaller.  For Maeshowe you are in a tour group of about 25 people with a guide.  Even though the place is larger you somehow feel more compressed due to the people around you all shuffling round to get a look at whatever aspect the guide is pointing at and talking about.  It is an impressive place with a fascinating history both ancient and more recent.  The Viking graffiti in it is interesting as well. Maeshowe is special and very well worth seeing but for me, in terms of atmosphere I much preferred the experiences of the lesser known tombs.

I’ve called this post “Echos of Devotion” and so far spoken of tombs, cairns and mysterious underground chambers.  But if you think about the work involved in crafting these structures and the devotion to purpose the builders of them had I think you will understand why devotion is such a strong theme for me in reflecting about these places.

On Thursday after visiting Maeshowe in the morning we took a drive back towards the Churchill barriers and visited the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm.  For anyone not in the know this is a chapel made using nissan huts and recycled materials by Italian prisoners of war during the second world war.  It is an absolutely remarkable testament to the devotion of those involved in all aspects of the modification and decoration of the nissan huts.  Although it was only completed just after the POWs were repatriated it has been beautifully preserved and cared for.  From the information present at the site I believe there are occasional services held there.  I absolutely loved this place! I found the atmosphere there highly sacred, a very special place and very accessible too.

Italian chapel exterior

Exterior of the Italian Chapel

Italian chapel interior

Interior of the Italian Chapel (the brick and stonework effects were all hand painted)

Devotion of a different sort was our next stop as we sampled some of the wonderful offerings of the Orkney Wine Company, unsurprisingly after trying a few samples we purchased a few bottles to bring home. Very impressive products!

That afternoon found us in Kirkwell visiting St Magnus’ Cathedral.  A wonderfully accessible venue for such an old cathedral.  St Magnus’ Cathedral is a place that shows a different aspect of devotion again to me.  In that place are the echoes of the devotion of craftsmen and women down the ages and the communities that have supported them as well as the echoes of the devotional use through many centuries.  It’s a lovely example of Christian architecture through centuries too as different aspects of the building date to different time periods.

St Magnus Cathedral 2

North Nave Aisle showing the back of a 17th century Mort Brod (death board) memorial to  a glazier, Robert Nicholson

St Magnus Cathedral 3

Pulpit and North Transept showing the Norwegian flag prominently displayed in honour of the many links between Orkney and Norway.

St Magnus Cathedral 1

One of two Green Man carvings in the St Rognvald Chapel area of the Cathedral.

The last place I am going to mention in this post is the remains of an usual round church at Orphir that we visited on Friday, our last day on Orkney. The Orphir Round Kirk is the last remains of a medieval round church and the only one surviving in Scotland.  It is found behind the Orkneyinga Saga Centre and the ruins of the Earl’s Bu.  Another fascinating little place to visit with echoes of the past also surrounding these unusual church remains in the well kept and still used graveyard.

Orphir Round church

Orphir Round Church

 

As always photos copyright and thanks to Neil Pitchford of Awen Photos.