Archive for the ‘Druidism’ Category

Some plantain leaf and heal-all I harvested. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

I’ve noticed a significant decrease in temperature recently. There have been reports of frost in the Adirondacks, and the chilly nights have already started to impact my garden. Some of the less cold-tolerant plants are starting to wilt or die back. An Cailleach is waking up, and as much as I love autumn, it means that many of our Nature Spirit allies who bless us with food, healing, and other creature comforts are going to go back into the Earth Mother for awhile.

Each year I say I’m going to prepare more than the year before, and I never do quite as much as I hope.  I always have grand plans of stuffing my cupboards with canned or dehydrated veggies and fruit.  One of these days, that will happen, but it won’t be this year.  However, just as I learn more about gardening each year, I also learn something new when it comes to preserving the harvest and preparing for the cold season.

This autumn, I’m trying to save a few little things here and there. For example, I forage for useful herbs as I play with Bee around the house.  As I do this, she is also learning about the world around her.  And even though I just haven’t had the time to can lots of fruits and veggies, I may make bigger batches while preparing our daily meals, then freeze some for later.  Today I made apple pie and prepared twice as much filling as I needed.  Just a little extra effort will make for a sweet reward on a cold, winter day.

Fresh apple pie. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

As I prepare for the winter in these small ways, I reflect on my gratitude for the blessings of the Three Kindreds.  The Nature Spirits have given me so much in the form of food, shelter, and healing herbs throughout the green season.  In gardening, foraging, and preserving, I am calling on age-old knowledge passed down from my Ancestors.  I give gratitude to Airmed for herbs in my garden and to Brighid for the transformative power of the hearth fire as I cook and preserve.  I thank An Dagda for the abundance we have.  I suppose I could even thank An Cailleach for the chill in my freezer!  (Hmmm… never thought of that before…)

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Bonfire Under Full Moon

It’s a work night, so we can’t stay up to enjoy the whole lunar eclipse. However, we simply had to take advantage of the excellent viewing conditions to catch the beginning. What a great excuse for family time around a bonfire? Before building the fire, I gave an offering of milk to Brighid, and prayed for a warm, safe fire this night. We stayed out until the moon was half obscured by Earth’s shadow. It’s always so humbling to look up and out. Such events bring us closer, I think.


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Blessed Autumn Equinox!

I spent Saturday celebrating early with my lovely protogrove.  We sang, honored the Earth Mother, and feasted on our bounty.  I was honored to lead a friend and grovie’s mother blessing as our magical working.  It was wonderful, and definitely a post for another time.  Today marked the actual Autumn Equinox, and I had a quiet observation with family in the form of dinner – a soup made with homegrown potatoes and locally grown beet greens, a shared bottle of hard cider, and a bit of time outside with my garden.

Many of my plants have gone through their lifecycle, yielding small but enjoyable bounty.  It’s easy to get discouraged by how little I grow in my containers, but I always learn something new, so it’s worth it.  For example, this year I learned a better way to start tomato seeds indoors, had success growing lemon balm from seed, grew a bunch of snap peas (and have started another crop since they’re cold hardy), grew onions from starters, and even had a tiny success experimenting with okra.  Along with a small pile of potatoes, a few tiny cucumbers, a little kale, some small eggplants, five large sunflowers, a surprise pumpkin, and a few pots of herbs, I think I did pretty well for a wee patio garden!

I’m grateful for so much other bounty, though.  My daughter is growing well.  Maybe I can’t grow enough food to feed us all winter on my own, but I’m raising a smart and sassy little girl!  I’ve continued to support my family in many ways, even though times are occasionally difficult.  We pull through together!

Intellectually, I learned how to knit socks, I’m improving my Spanish (yes, my Irish is on hold), growing in my profession, in my understanding of the local ecosystem, and in my understanding of Irish history and lore.  I’m no Morgan Daimler, that’s for sure, but I apparently know enough to have respect in my protogrove*!

Speaking of my protogrove, it’s been a year since Northern Rivers Protogrove experienced a bit of drama in numerous forms.  We persevered and learned from it.  Members who had to take a step back due to health reasons have returned, we’ve gained another new member, and yet another was raised to Folk status after an initiation ceremony.  We are a small group, but we’ve managed to stay active, continually improve our ritual skills, and have become an even closer family.  We’re moving towards full grove status!  Cheer for us!

Spiritually, and related to my role as a grove organizer, I’ve continued to (slowly) work through my various ADF study programs.  I find myself growing in roles that help my community.  Writing and leading rituals has done a lot for my liturgist skills.  My divination skills have been improving too, and one of my protogrove members actually asked me to do a reading for her, which, again, honors me.  I love giving back to my community, and it validates all the hard work I’ve been doing.

While I may not have a cornucopia brimming with tons of homegrown fruits and veggies, I think I’ve done pretty well with this year’s harvest.  What are you thankful for this year?  I hope you take time to count your blessings as you celebrate.

*I seriously admire Morgan Daimler.  I would love to know a quarter of what she does!  Read her books!

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I was up late preparing for my protogrove’s Autumn Equinox celebration, and I woke up earlier than usual on a Saturday to continue my preparations.  I’m not even leading today’s ritual, although I am performing several important parts.  I’m also leading the magical working: a grovemate’s mother blessing/saining ceremony.  There’s a buzz of excitement in the house.  Perhaps it’s just me, but I’m truly excited.

Remember when you were little and the holidays filled you with so much anticipation?  You could barely contain yourself as the day approached?  For me, I have vivid memories of planning Halloween costumes,  getting up early on Thanksgiving to watch the parade on TV, or impatiently counting down the days to Christmas.  Ah, the magic of childhood…

That never has to go away.  You may celebrate different holidays now, but you can approach them with that exuberance.

It’s hard when you first step on a spiritual path that is different from your family’s, but I think that’s especially so when you’re embracing a minority religion and you are clueless on the community around you.  During my days as a solitary eclectic practitioner, finding my way, I would honor the holidays by myself in my bedroom or, sometimes, in the forest.  The initial buzz of taboo a converted Catholic might feel wore off, and I was left, instead, with a bit of sadness.  Sometimes, it felt too much like an obligation.  Of course, those of us who walk these paths embrace a self-imposed obligation to revive and maintain the old ways, but it shouldn’t be begrudgingly.  We should leave behind the “12 Pains of Christmas” attitude when moving over to the Earth-Centered paths.

Finding community changed everything for me.  Suddenly I wasn’t alone.  I found a spiritual family!  Of course, I’m sure it’s perfectly possible for a solitary practitioner to celebrate the holidays with joy, but for me it didn’t work.  I needed that community.  As a child, I planned Halloween costumes with my parents.  I watched that Thanksgiving parade with my sister.  I counted down the days to Christmas with my family and friends.  Each was followed by celebrating with others, and I crave that community. In my humble opinion, since Druidism is a tribal religion by nature, these very community-centric celebrations are experienced best with others, sharing in the joy.  Now that I’m older and wiser, I realize that, even if my family isn’t Polytheistic or Pagan, we all connect in our appreciation of picking out pumpkins, drinking apple cider, making snowmen, planting in the spring, and that first dip in the river after a seemingly endless winter.  You may not have ritual with your biological family, but you can still celebrate together.

Whether you are part of a grove or not, find your joy and excitement.  Really meditate on what you’re doing and why.  Create an appropriate playlist and fill your home with mirthful sound.  Plan a special, seasonal meal and decorate with plants and harvest to connect with the land.   Plan important magical workings for the day and truly anticipate it.  Embrace the day as a child would.  If you’re like me and you have a child, think about what he or she will remember down the road.  What pleasant nostalgia will fill her heart when she sees the seasons change?

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This past weekend, I spent a couple days at different beaches along the St. Lawrence River. On Friday, I put my feet in the public beach at Alexandria Bay. On Sunday, I went swimming with friends at Grass Point State Park. It was a fantastic way to spend some of my remaining vacation, especially as it was so hot. Both times, as I stood in the blissfully cool waters and felt the warm sun on my skin, I was reminded of the Two Powers meditation. I remember how I struggled with that once upon a time. Turns out, the more I did it, the better I became at visualization and even sensing the energies flowing through me. Part of my improvement over the years has been through mindfully storing memories.

As I stood in the waters, I did my best to be present at that time, capturing details of the experience for later reference. When the bitter cold winter sets in, I will need memories of summer at the river to help me connect with the cooling waters and warm sun, just as I rely on my winter experiences to supplement my summer meditations on hot, sticky days. As we move into the cooler half of the year, I hope you take some time to reflect on your experiences in places where you connected with the sky and water energies.


A view of Alexandria Bay and Casino Island. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

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Although my divination method of choice remains “The Druid Animal Oracle,” I’ve been working to improve my understanding of ogham.  Each day, after I perform my morning or afternoon devotional, I ask for an omen for the day and draw an ogham symbol from a muslin bag.  I’m getting better at interpreting certain symbols and seeing how they could relate to my day, both as I head to known destinations and activities, and in reflection at the end of the day.  Other symbols, however, continue to elude me.  Part of this is due to the variety of interpretations in the books I have.  Others seem very ominous, only for my day to be relatively stress-free.  This left me confused and second-guessing the symbols.  I wasn’t about to give up, though, as I know that questioning and critiquing are part of the learning process.

Blackthorn has been one ogham symbol that has continued to bloggle me.  Skip Ellison’s book Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids summarizes its meaning as “Trouble & negativity” (125).  Ian Corrigan also touched on Ogham in his work A Druid’s Companion: Lore & Rituals for the Work of Druidry.  He summarizes its meaning as “trouble and protection.”  Finally, Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham by Steve Blamires simplifies blackthorn as such: “Be prepared for a transition; prepare for something about to end; sudden change; death” (253).   It’s quite the variety, but the common denominator is always fairly negative.  Of course, most authors expand on the tree by looking at its folklore and biology.  Blackthorn, however, continued to confuse me in part because of the symbolism associated with other trees.  For example, some authors equate hawthorn with “unpleasant period(s)” (Blamires 253), or yew with death (Corrigan and Ellison).  According to Cúchulainn, heather could also relate to death through his comparing it to the “shroud of the lifeless one,” (Ellison 47).  Ultimately, one has to consider all the information as well as our own perceptions, but I was feeling overwhelmed.  Perhaps part of this is my own inexperience with actual, living blackthorns?

Then I started to think about blackthorn in terms of “strife.”  Many authors link its Gaelic name for the ogham, “straif” or “straiph,” with the English word “strife.”  I was repeatedly drawing blackthorn, and I was getting worried.  At the same time, I’ve been pouring over books to work on an ADF course – Indo European Mythology 1.  There’s a major comparative element to it, so I decided to pull out all my materials from my college mythology class.  Oh, the wealth of material I have on Greek mythology!  I was rereading Hesiod’s “Works and Days,” which outlines good morals as well as when and how Ancient Greeks should have performed certain tasks.  It’s quite a fascinating peek back in time, honestly, one that people who follow a Celtic hearth culture could only dream of finding.  Anyway, Hesiod discusses strife:

And I will speak to Perses the naked truth:
There was never one kind of Strife.  Indeed on this earth
two kinds exist.  The one is praised by her friends,
the other found blameworthy.  These two are not of one mind.
The one – so harsh – fosters evil war and the fray of battle.
No man loves this oppressive Strife, but compulsion
and divine will grant her a share of honor.
The other one is black Night’s elder daughter;
and the son of Kronos, who dwells on ethereal heights,
planted her in the roots of the earth and among men.
She is much better, and she stirs even the shiftless on to work.
A man will long for work when he sees a man of wealth
who rushes with zeal to plow and plant
and husband his homestead.  One neighbor envies another
who hastens to his riches.  This Strife is good for mortals.
Then potters eye one another’s success and craftsmen, too;
the beggar’s envy is a beggar, the singer’s a singer.
Perses, treasure this thought deep down in your heart,
do not let malicious Strife curb your zeal for work
so you can see and hear the brawls of the market place. (lines 10 – 29, translated by Apostolos N. Athanassakis)

This passage was a reminder not to lose sight of the less ominous interpretations of straif.  They are also part of the blackthorn.  Just as Hesiod says there are two kinds of strife, a positive and negative, blackthorn has its sides.  It depends on the perception and context.  The thorny bush could indeed be protective in certain circumstances.  I don’t see death in it, though.  I feel that yew, with its association with graveyards, has a better connection to death than blackthorn, but the latter surely relates to trouble and difficulties in reaching our goals due to all those thorns.

Later that day, I further meditated on blackthorn while at yoga class.  Before we started, our teacher set an intention for us.  She asked us to think about transitions.  As we went through our stretches, breathing, and movement, she would remind us to stop and think about the processes we go through to transition between one pose and another.  Sometimes, those transitions were quite challenging.  They sometimes made me feel a little clumsy or sore, yet they were part of an ongoing process.

It dawned on me that the blackthorn I was drawing could relate to a transition I’ve been going through in my career.   It’s certainly been stressful, but not dreadful.  All the blackthorn could be related to the strife of hard work as I transitioned, and the difficulties of that process.

This whole experience, while probably kind of roundabout, has felt like a breakthrough in my understanding of some of the ogham symbols.  Let the journey continue!

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Yes, yes, I can already hear your impatient mutterings, wondering what “The Lion King” is doing on a blog about Celtic spirituality.  Well hold your horses (or zebras).

Earlier in the day, my daughter followed my husband into the garage to “help” him with something.  She emerged carrying my large plush adult Simba.  He’d been in a bag with my other “Lion King” toys, patiently waiting for the right time to come out.  We have limited space in the apartment, after all… Well, I took this as a sign that it was time to initiate her in the mysteries of my childhood. (“It is time,” as Rafiki would say.)  My husband and I grew up loving “The Lion King.”  I spent much of my childhood watching it, reading related books, singing along to the soundtrack, playing with the toys, and acting out various scenes with my friends.  You could say I was obsessed.  I had been eager to share it with my little one and continue the great “Circle of Life.”  I actually got a little emotional as that song played over the opening scene.  My daughter excitedly pointed out each animal, oohing and aahing over the presentation ceremony.  As the movie progressed, I brought out more of my old toys, and she excitedly engaged with them.  She danced to the songs and reacted emotionally to Mufasa’s death – more than I thought a two year old would.

As I watched, it hit me that this movie was probably my first exposure to ancestor veneration and the concept of how interconnected everything is.  Sure, “Bambi” had an equally emotional death scene, but “The Lion King” really went beyond death simply as a fact of life, and infused such spirit into the experience.  Not only are our beloved dead still with us in the natural world, passing through the food chain, but they are in the stars and even in us.  It can seem so obvious, but it’s really rather profound when you look at your reflection and see familiar features from ages past looking back at you.  When Mufasa tells Simba that he forgot who he himself was and, therefore, forgot his father, it’s quite profound.  We like to think of ourselves as individuals, but our actions and morals are something that are passed down to us, that we will pass on ourselves.  We honor our dead by living in a way that they would be proud of, and we hope our children will continue to live in a way that brings the whole family honor.  When I was older and more worldly, the Broadway musical version came out with even more songs to add further depth to the story.  One of the songs explored how intimately connected we are to our Ancestors and all life.  I remember starting to explore ADF Druidism, thinking on my Ancestors, and automatically singing “They Live in You.”  I thought of my grandmother, my great grandmother, and all the people I never met who had shaped my own parents.  They truly are alive in me – genetically and even in my value system.

As Samhain nears, and my daughter grows, it is good to know that an old childhood favorite can be a tool for discussion.  From the “circle of life,” to ancestor veneration, “The Lion King” is a great option for a Druid Movie Night with the little ones.  And hey, the Broadway song is definitely one you could add to your repertoire when giving offerings to your Ancestors.

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