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Unwanted Family Traditions

Traditions are linked to rituals; they’re actions we engage in for some purpose.  Often, this purpose is to cement ties within a group and to connect with an important celebration.  There are many family traditions that are dear to me, and I am already passing them down to my daughter.  They are traditions that make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and they symbolize part of what I perceive to be beneficial and, sometimes, deeply spiritual about an observation.  There are some traditions, specifically from my mother, that seemed like nothing more than silly superstition to me during adolescence.  As I grew and started to study and embrace my ancestral heritage, these traditions took on a new positive significance.  In addition, moving away from my mother found me embracing practices that were once trite seeming, possibly because I miss her and feel closer to her through maintaining them.  Often, it seems that traditions are informally handed down this way in modern American society.  Children either grow to embrace them through a combination of sentimentality and belief, or they abandon them entirely.

Abandoning a family tradition is simple enough when it’s a minor ritual.  When I altered my dinnertime prayer so that it reflected my polytheistic beliefs, there were some growing pains in that, but it was eventually accepted because I was still expressing gratitude*.  My decision not to observe Valentine’s Day is still looked at as a little odd but nobody in my family really cares.

Thanksgiving is a whole other issue.   It has nothing to do with patriotism, although I’m certain many of my readers come from families who would decry any aversion to the holiday as unpatriotic**. To my kin, Thanksgiving is a family holiday, and the mere suggestion that I don’t want to celebrate it is often criticized by loved ones who, I must stress, have the best of intentions.  They sympathize with my reasons, but insist that the holiday has evolved and is all about family, togetherness, and, of course, gratitude.  While I understand that, and even embrace that spirit, I still find the tradition of observing Thanksgiving with a capital T to be morally objectionable simply because of the history.

Full disclosure – I do, according to family records, have an indigenous ancestor.  She comes from the Cree people and married another ancestor, a French trapper.  I claim this ancestor out of love and respect, and desire to know more about her, but I don’t lay any claim to Cree culture, nor Native culture at large.  I periodically try to inform myself, and I find that this happens a lot around November especially.  The same old, mangled cultural narrative*** comes out and, not only is it whitewashed and incomplete – it’s offensive!  Every year, I strive to learn more about the history and, just as important, I learn about contemporary Native issues.  I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, nor do I claim perfection, but I am trying to better myself, and CAORANN has been a very helpful resource for me, as someone on the Druidic path.  I find myself agreeing with the concept of The National Day of Mourning.  I guess I just feel that perpetuating a false history is offensive to my Ancestors of blood and place, and doing so on a day of gluttony while actual Native brothers and sisters suffer in poverty is offensive.  I feel that doing so while also glamorizing factory farmed turkey consumption, and using the whole day as a threshold into a season of excessive consumerism, to be absolutely abhorrent and antithetical to my entire spirituality.  I have a difficult time explaining this to my family in part because some of them just want to have a fun day to get together, and Thanksgiving is as good an excuse as any to them.  While they don’t attempt to censor my displeasure, they often look at me as curmudgeon.

Look.  I’m not trying to downplay the importance of celebrating the harvest either.  And heck, I enjoy pumpkin pie more than I should!  Gratitude towards the Earth and those who labor to feed others is incredibly worthy of celebration, and I already feel that I celebrate various thanksgivings during numerous harvest festivals.  In fact, the entire modern Pagan calendar could be viewed, in part, as a series of thanksgivings.  They have meaning for me.  They do not offend me or my moral principals.

I don’t entirely know how to deal with this issue.  I don’t want to observe Thanksgivng anymore, but I also love seeing my family.  This year, at least, we’re having our dinner two days later…  but it’s still a Thanksgiving observation in man ways.  Can I, raised in this tradition, ever break free of it?  Can I positively share this alternative view with my daughter, who will attend a public school, without marginalizing her?  It’s likely I couldn’t get out of the whole mess without hurting some feelings…  Yet I feel that, one of these days, perhaps when Bee is older, we’ll start a new tradition.  I’d like to attend a National Day of Mourning protest one day to learn more and express my solidarity.  I want to do things because they have real meaning to me.  I want my daughter to see that I value truth, fellowship, and the Earth.

It’s a complicated issue, but I can’t help but dwell on these thoughts each November…  I thank you, dear readers, for indulging me as I get this off my chest.  One thing I’m thankful for?  I live in a country where I’m free to express my feelings of discontent!

*Changing or eliminating a prayer before dinner will, of course, vary in acceptance.  I am not attempting to diminish any negative experiences felt by my more agnostic or atheistic readers.

** If any of my readers feel that way about me now, we’ll just have to respectfully disagree.  

*** I refuse to call it a myth.  Such usage, in my opinion, diminishes the sacred quality of what mythology actually is.

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Offerings of love, corn, oats, tea, and an apple at the foot of the oak tree. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

As promised, I brought An Cailleach fresh, homemade bread. I wanted to make it extra special for the Winter Hag, so I stamped it with a snowflake cookie cutter before baking. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014

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Our snow girl. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014

The blizzard in Northern NY stopped this afternoon and we had some time to go out and clean up. The sun even came out for a bit! Bee and I took advantage of this to have some fun in the snow. We made a big pile and, inspired by this fun post I found on Pinterest, made a snow girl with an offering of birdseed and corn in her arms.

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An Cailleach is wide awake in Northern New York, ready to teach us humility and patience. May we all learn gracefully this season! Hail and welcome!

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Despite what the modern calendar tells you, winter is here in Upstate NY.  We’ve received snow.  An Cailleach is wide awake, shaking the dust out of her skirts and cloaks.  While she has yet to show her full power, it’s coming.  You can feel it in the chilly air.  While the snow isn’t sticking for long in most places, it clings longer in the forest shadows.  I went there today to visit and take in the sights and sounds.

Snow on the ferns. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

The oak tree was bare save for a few straggling, brown leaves, clinging on for dear life. The forest seemed very gray today except for the hemlock and lingering ferns. Although the plant world is very sleepy, the animals who share the realm were quite awake! Some blue jays got into a shouting match while I was doing my devotional ritual. I couldn’t help but stop and observe. Smaller birds darted through the evergreens – one bearing some broken branches that could betray the position of a porcupine. In the distance, red squirrels tittered.

Offerings at the shrine on a chilly November day. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

I left my offerings at the base of the oak – fruit, seeds, oats, and sweet red wine poured on rocks.  I also left a crow feather I found on my way there.  It felt right to give it back to Nature.

As I left, I promised An Cailleach some bread next time.  UPG I’ve experienced the last few years I’ve made offerings to her have taught me that our regional winter hag loves fresh bread.  Good thing I enjoy making it!  What’s more, it adds some extra warmth to our home while An Cailleach dances outside.

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Sweet kitchen magic in the form of homemade cheesecake topped with cherry sauce. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Each year for my husband’s birthday, I make him a New York style cheesecake.  He adores it, and each year, it gets better and better.  It’s quite a time-consuming dessert to make, which is why it’s a rare treat and one of my gifts to him.  This year was especially demanding because we don’t have a working mixer, and cream cheese can be stiff to stir, even after sitting out for a bit.  Needless to say, I put a lot of love into his birthday cake each year.

As I made the cake, I thought about this – how much effort and love go into it.  I realized that this is kitchen magic – pure and simple!  Each sunwise stir adds more intention, especially when you’re focused on making something that will give joy to the recipient.  Our daughter did some of her own kitchen magic, too – she enjoys stirring lately, so she gave it a go herself while I told her to think about daddy.  For the finishing touch, I made cherry sauce from scratch using locally grown fruit I bought at the farmers’ market and froze with my husband’s birthday in mind. No artificial coloring for us!

Although the cheesecake gets better each year because of my growing experience, I feel that part of this year’s success was due to my increased magical focus as I worked on finishing it.  To some, that may sound too woo and simple, but sometimes that’s how magic really is!

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If you live in America and have a Netflix account, you’ll be able to check out a Nature documentary called “Ireland’s Wild River.” It follows the narrator, Colin Stafford-Johnson, as he shares the beautiful Shannon River.  I watched this recently on a lazy evening while my little one napped in my arms.  The visuals are stunning and immersive.  I  caught myself wistfully sighing more than once as I imagined myself there.  Many of the documentaries I watch about Celtic lands, particularly Ireland, are concerned with history.  This program was dedicated to the plants and animals that live in and around the Shannon’s meandering waters.  While we modern folk learning about Druidism in America must explore our own local flora and fauna, it is also important that we understand the land that our ancestors came from.  We may find helpful similarities between our lands and the Nature Spirits that live here which may further inform our understanding of lore, art, holiday observations, and other folkways.  Don’t expect a lot of depth, and especially don’t look for much discussion on the old magical beliefs of Ireland, though.  However, it could be just what you need to inspire a new prayer for the Nature Spirits.  If you need to relax and have 52 minutes to lounge, why not indulge in some beautiful imagery of Ireland’s lush Shannon River?

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