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Fast as an Oak Tree

When life gets busy, I tend to feel that my spirituality comes out of focus. Socializing, driving from place to place, and my day job all distract me from my studies. Being a mother and keeping my home is exhausting. So often, I find myself snuggled in a bathrobe, on the couch, watching something on Netflix.  When I log on to the internet, I see others in my tradition discussing the various ADF study programs that they’re working through, and I think of how long it’s taking me…  I’m about ready to give up on trance and magic for now.  I just can’t seem to adhere to a routine with my fussy toddler teething so frequently.  It can be really discouraging…

When I went into the forest to do my devotional on Sunday, I found myself dwelling on everything I wasn’t doing enough of: practicing meditation or trance, magical work, studying Irish, studying herbalism…  My ritual itself felt a little melancholy.  It was such a chilly, overcast day. All the lovely autumn colors from the last couple weeks had blown away. Ravens chuckled in the distance, reminding me at once of An Morrigan and her connection to death.  The veil is thin, Samhain is coming, and the natural world both dies and prepares for slumber.

Once inside, I gradually began to realize all the ways that I am living and growing spiritually.  I am doing my best to maintain a positive relationship with the Kindreds by giving offerings and saying prayers of gratitude.  I practice simple, practical forms of magic – folk magic, kitchen magic, basic shielding and grounding.  I may not be actively studying Irish each day, but I’m learning when I can.  I may not be reading as much as I used to, but I’m fitting that in when I can as well.  I’ve started to journal each Sunday afternoon, and my liturgy journal shows growth and reflection.  Most importantly, I’m sharing the joy of life’s most basic magic with my daughter.  We sing and dance to music, delight in simple stories, and enjoy expressing our creativity with art.  We explore nature together, and her complete awe in everything has awakened something deep inside me.  Lately, a majority of the books I read are my child’s.  We read them together – fiction and non-fiction, verse and prose.   She hears my prayers and sees me make offerings.

My Druidism is growing as fast as an oak, which is okay.  The experience of tending to my little acorn is just part of my journey.  It is teaching me to be patient and nurturing, and to reconnect to the world’s most primal and joyful magic.

I don’t normally reblog, but this post from John Beckett of “Under the Ancient Oaks: Musings of a Pagan, Druid, and Unitarian Universalist,” was just too good.  A friend and grovie sent it to me because she felt I am a Druid warrior.  That really made my day.  I’m definitely not a passive tree-hugger.  I do what I can to protect my tribe and the Earth Mother.

The Dark Side of Druidry.

A lovely, moss-covered rock I encountered on my walk today.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

A lovely, moss-covered rock I encountered on my walk today. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Today I went to the forest to do a devotional. It’s a perfect day for that. The sky is clear, allowing the sun to hit the changing leaves. It makes them look like a brilliant flame!

As a precaution against hunters and bears, I donned a red jacket and, once I was in the forest, sang “We Approach the Sacred Grove” on my way to my little nemeton. When I got there, I circled clockwise, stopping before the oak tree. I then allowed myself to breathe and take in the beauty of my surroundings. I felt so at peace and thankful to be there. It’s something I look forward to each week. If I miss my walks for some reason, I do my devotionals inside, but there’s something extra special about doing them in the forest.

I called to Brighid as a Goddess of inspiration and as a gatekeeper. Like others in ADF, I have been experimenting with this portion of ritual and looking to the fire as the beginning of a ritual working upon reaching the sacred space. While I do not start fires in the forest, I look up to the sun as the great bonfire in the sky. I prayed to Brighid:

Lady Brighid, Goddess of flame,

I pray that your fire sparks the flames in my mind

Inspiring me to speak with truth, beauty, and eloquence.

I pray that your fire shines a light into the darkness,

Chasing away the negativity.

I pray that your fire’s smoke carry my prayers to the Other Worlds

And that you open the ways.

Lady Brighid – let the ways be open!

 

It is a work in progress. I feel that I tweak that process and prayer a little each time, but I like how it is working out.

I attuned with the fire, well, and tree, meditating on their symbolism and power. This is always very visceral for me when I’m outside. I focus on how I sense them. The sun’s warmth and light touches my face, the creek nearby often gurgles, or the sun glints off the raindrops on the leaves. The oak tree, which I lean on when I focus on the Two Powers, gives me strength and stability. The firm earth gives me a foundation on which to stand.

I sang to the Earth Mother, then bent to give her a kiss. Next, I prayed and gave offerings to the Three Kindreds, followed by special offerings for my spirit guide and patroness.

When I am in the woods, I meditate, but not the way I do inside. Being out in a forest, off a path, I need to be mindful of the possible dangers. I relax but generally don’t close my eyes. I stand against the oak tree and soften my gaze. I let myself truly open up to the sensations of the forest. My purpose in going to the forest is to commune with the land, with the Nature Spirits there, and praise the Kindred among the trees. I’m not trying to escape that in some way by visualizing an alternate grove. When I meditate in the forest, it is to fully immerse myself in that environment. When I leave, I carry that with me for all the times I pray and meditate inside. Going into the woods is like recharging a battery.

One Last Harvest?

Gathered the last of the tomatoes, and one lone cucumber.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

I love autumn. The weather is exactly how I like it, the changing leaves are so inspiring, and the mosquitos and poison ivy are less of a concern when I take nature walks. I also really enjoy winter. Sweaters, hot cocoa, cooking hot dinners that warm the whole house up … Yet as An Cailleach makes herself known a little more each morning and evening, I do feel a bit of sadness about my garden.

I think it was more of a success this year than last, in part because I wasn’t healing from a large slice in the abdomen. However, a newly mobile toddler didn’t exactly make gardening any easier… I did what I could, though, and got a lot of joy out of sharing it with my daughter.

The most successful parts of my garden this year were the tomatoes, although they came into their own later due to my late planting. I also had a great potato harvest and did more wild harvesting around my home. The scarlet runner beans did well, and were certainly pretty, but they’re very tough beans. Next year, I’ll probably go with something that I can enjoy eating raw rather than something as pretty. I would also like to plan better so that I can extend the life of my garden into the autumn. I may still try to plant garlic in preparation for the spring…

Although I’ll miss my garden, autumn in Northern NY reminds us that everyone needs a rest. The soil and the perennials will soon cover up with a snowy blanket.  When I transplanted my bulbs, I thought about how they symbolize the spring and all the new life that is possible because of that sleep.  While the beginning of winter is often a stressful flurry of activity, what follows the winter holidays is a long season in which many of us will become restless.  As I prepare my garden for its hibernation, I’ve been thinking about how I need to make my own time to relax this season.  Yes, some of that rest will include dreaming and planning for the green half of the year, but as long as I’m doing it leisurely with a cup of hot tea, I’ll be doing my mind, body, and spirit a favor.

Rowan tree in Alexandria Bay, NY.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Rowan tree in Alexandria Bay, NY.   The leaves haven’t really changed, but the berries are bright red!  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

This is my favorite time of year, so naturally I’m over the moon when it comes to sharing it with my little one.  It’s hard to enjoy traditions, old or new, with an infant, however. This year is a whole new experience!  She’s able to interact with the world around her, so it’s a great time to introduce her to all things autumn.  Here are some of the things we’ve been doing.  Teaching little ones about the cycle of the year, the sacredness of Nature, and our holidays is as easy as seasonal pie!

Autumn Fun with a One Year Old

    • Take nature walks and look at the trees.  Say hello and even give them hugs.  Point out the different colors.
    • Pick apples, clumps of rowan berries, or acorns, and thank the trees for their bounty. In fact, get in the habit of always saying prayers of thanks with your child.
    • Run through piles of crinkly leaves.  (I’d love to make a labyrinth like these people did!)
    • Show your toddler how dried leaves turn into dust when you crinkle them in your fingers.
    • Visit a local apple cider press.  Learn how apple cider is made (Bee was scared of the noisy machines), or at least smell that intoxicating aroma!  Give your little one a tiny taste of an apple cider donut.  Just a tiny one.
    • Visit your local pumpkin patch and let your tot pick out her own pumpkin.  Show her how varied pumpkins can be.  The warty ones are especially fun to touch!
    • We haven’t done this yet, but my plan is let Bee decorate her own pumpkin via finger painting.  (There are some lovely toddler pumpkin ideas here.)
    • Sing fun songs about the season.  An easy one, which goes to the tune of “10 Little Indians,” goes like this:
      One little, two little, three little pumpkins.
      Four little, five little, six little pumpkins.
      Seven little, eight little, nine little pumpkins.
      Ten little pumpkin pals!
    • Find milkweed seeds and make wishes together when you blow them away.
    • Pick the last of the harvest together.  Let your little one eat a few goodies fresh from the vines.  Bee loves cherry tomatoes.
    • Wave goodbye to the Canada geese as they fly south.
    • Make a Samhain playlist and dance to it together.
    • Last year, I chose what my child was wearing for Samhain.  This year, although Bee can’t exactly articulate what she wants to dress as herself, I decided to make a costume based on something she really loves – cats!  Sure, I could dress her up as a favorite fantasy character, but I would rather she recognize what she’s pretending to be.
    • Read interactive books about the season together.  I just gave her I Love You, Little Pumpkin, and she adores it.  It introduces the idea of dressing up, which is one of the most easily accessible childhood traditions.  She especially likes the little mirror at the end of the book.
    • If you haven’t already, make an ancestral altar.  Visit it often as a family.  If possible, take a trip to a family grave. Pray to the Ancestors together, and make offerings.
    • Make some delicious applesauce and enjoy it together.
    • When you wake up to morning frost, tell your toddler a simple story about An Cailleach.  They may not understand everything, but it builds a foundation.  I simply say, “Oooh, An Cailleach is waking up!  Soon, she’ll bring winter back!”

What are some of your favorite ways to share Autumn and Samhain traditions with your little one?  I can’t wait to add to my list and do even more sophisticated things with Bee next year!

Offerings at the oak tree. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

When life gets busy – go to the forest.

When there is drama at protogrove events – go to the forest.

When you question why you are trying to build community – go to the forest.

When your thoughts won’t let you be – go to the forest.

The oak tree will teach you how to reach to the upper and lower worlds.

The oak tree will teach you to weather your storms.

To oak tree will inspire strength.

The secrets are there in the forest. Your purpose is there in the forest.

You will catch your breath in the forest.

Life will make sense again.

Apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014

Upstate New York is known for its delicious apples. Each autumn, orchards roll out their red, yellow, and green goodness, cider presses offer their ambrosial best, and folks everywhere delight at the numerous confections produced in kitchens across the land.  When fresh apples appear in mounds at farmers’ markets and grocery stores, when the cider presses open, that is when autumn has officially arrived, and this little Druid rejoices!

While I’ll join my fellow grovies on Saturday for a formal ritual to honor and thank the Earth Mother for her bounty, I’ve spent my Autumn Equinox eating a homemade meal with my little family and enjoying the harvest of apples – including some from a tree right outside my home! I’ve already dehydrated some for snacking.  Today I decided to do something simple and quick – apple sauce.

It’s such a simple dish – a large batch of apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon.  Recipes say that last ingredient is optional, but you’re a strange one if you omit it.  Blended together, the aroma wafts through the home, the most welcomed autumn incense you could dream up.  While the plant world is dying or preparing for sleep, the smell of apples is youthful energy unleashed!

Homemade goodness. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Unlike store-bought applesauce, the homemade variety, fresh off the stove, tastes like apple pie filling without the crust.  All the good stuff – the heart and soul of the autumn season.  The only thing more gastronomically titillating is pumpkin pie filling.  Oh, mama… Speaking of mamas, there’s something very motherly about apple sauce to me.  Perhaps it’s because one of my first childhood memories is of watching my grandmother make it using apples straight off her tree – apples I helped to pick and sort.  As my baby salivated and smiled at the sugary treat of apple sauce, I realized that I was passing along yet another North Country tradition, one that goes back generations to the Old World.

Drying apple head. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Another apple tradition, one that I’ve never tried before, is drying apple heads to make dolls.  As someone who enjoys making dolls and learning about traditional arts, I don’t know why it’s taken me this long.  Using an apple that had a massive bruise on one side (normally I’m not a fan of wasting food, but this one was going to get thrown in a hedge anyway), I carved a face, inserted peppercorns for eyes, and placed in my oven on a low setting. It’s still drying nicely, and my hope is to make an offering for our Autumn Equinox celebration this weekend.

I hope your own harvest celebrations have been equally sweet and inspiring!   May your harvest invigorate your heart, mind, and soul, and may it reconnect you to your Ancestors and the rhythms of Nature!

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