My husband recently encouraged me to join Reddit so that I could take advantage of the vast gardening community there. While exploring, I found a subreddit dedicted to Druidism which was where I discovered this gem – “Fable: The Lost Art of the Spoken Word.” It features many bards from the Druidic community, namely Philip Carr-Gomm. It really set a fire in my head! I hope it inspires you too.
Posts Tagged ‘Druidism’
Posted in Druidism, tagged ADF, Arbor Day, Clayton NY, Druidism, Earth Day, Earth Hour, Earth Mother, Earth Week, Nature Spirits, Northern Rivers Protogrove, Thompson Park, Thousand islands, tribe, Watertown NY on April 27, 2014 | Leave a Comment »
Three Cranes Grove, ADF, did an “Earth-Along” last weekend with people all over the world. You didn’t need to be part of Three Cranes, or even ADF, to participate. The first day was of service to the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits. As I said recently, I take a bag into the woods with me every year right after the snow has fully melted. It tends to come around Earth Day. What perfect timing! So I joined my brother and sister Druids around the world and went into the forest to do what I could. A bit of styrofoam here, a broken toy there, a stray decoration here, a plastic bag there… The hardest part is saying, “enough.” There’s still more, but I can’t do it all by myself. Whenever I visit the woods, I make a point to take three things back with me for the trash or recycling bin, yet rubbish continues to find its way in…
Yesterday, a few of us from Northern Rivers Protogrove attended The Thousand Islands Land Trust’s Arbor Day Celebration in Clayton, NY. It was a lovely time and gets better each year! Kudos to my friend, C, for organizing so much! I led several children in an active meditation in which we used our imaginations to become trees. It was basically the Two Powers for children but much more secular. It was a hit and I will definitely do it again next year! There were many other family activities such as making peanut butter and birdseed pinecones, leaf rubbings, and visiting animals from a local organic farm. One of our grovies helped children write environmental goals on a mural, and a few others helped to plant some trees. After that was lunch and chatting along the majestic St. Lawrence River.
Today, my husband, my daughter, and I joined with others in Thompson Park in Watertown, NY for an “Earth Week Celebration.” First was a discussion on sustainability lead by Mr.Juczak, founder of Woodhenge in Adams, NY. Then we broke into groups to clean up the park. My family found so much litter! It was hard to help with a baby in a carrier, but I pulled my own weight. It felt great to give back to Nature and the community. For many of my urban friends in the area, Thompson Park remains one of the most accessible natural locations so it’s important to keep it clean.
As I explained to one of my fellow cleaners today, as someone who reveres the Earth, it’s important for me to truly practice what I preach. It isn’t enough to send out healing energy and give offerings of seed and herbs. You have to embrace sustainability as a lifestyle. That can mean many different things to different people, and the important thing is that you start to take baby steps to live in better harmony with the Earth and Nature Spirits every day. With that in mind, I remind all of my readers that we shouldn’t leave service to the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits to Earth Hour, Earth Day, Arbor Day, or Earth Week. We need to live and breath it!
May we honor the Earth Mother in all we think, say, and do! So be it.
I recently watched “Ghosts of Murdered Kings” on PBS. If you follow the link, you’ll be able to stream it on their website. This documentary focuses on the research surrounding the various bog bodies that have been uncovered throughout much of Northern Europe. I was able to see some bog bodies in person, first one at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and then in the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland (which I blogged a bit about here). The later has several on display. I felt a bit odd typing the previous sentence because there is something deeply humbling and even troubling to me about displaying dead bodies, especially if they were meant to be in the bogs… But on the other hand, they have taught us so much about the Celts and their beliefs. They also communicated something almost ineffable about mortality that stayed with me after seeing them.
“Ghosts of Murdered Kings” is another wonderful addition to the NOVA library. It explores the most recent theories surrounding these bodies. The prevailing theory seems to be that the bog bodies were usually royalty sacrificed to the land following poor harvests which relates back to the old ritual marriages between rulers and sovereignty Goddesses. Even having been exposed to this theory before in history books and the National Museum of Ireland, the refresher was welcomed. I learned several new things about how these theories came to be which gave me a greater appreciation for the scientists who work so diligently.
I recommend this documentary but caution that children might be frightened by it as it shows real corpses and features some minor dramatized violence and discussions of “triple murder” and “overkill.” It will definitely make you reflect on the practices of our Celtic ancestors and their relationship with the natural world. Whether such a sacrifice was or still is necessary is not the point – rather, why aren’t we taking our relationship with the land as seriously? Each of us is married to the land whether we like it or not. If we fail to respect her while also meeting our needs, what we will we have to give up to change the situation? What habits should we commit to the bogs to better ourselves and society?
Posted in Druidism, tagged ADF, ancestors, Celtic Cultures, Celtic history, Druidism, environmentalism, Gaelic polytheism, Irish culture, Mother Earth, Muin Mound, Northern Rivers, ritual, Samhain, traditions, tribe on October 29, 2013 | 6 Comments »
I keep seeing or hearing people discuss how they feel Samhain and/or Halloween should be celebrated. Some say it’s too scary; others that it isn’t scary enough. Some call for more reverence for the ancestors; others feel the holiday has become too somber in Pagan culture. Those later folk embrace the carnival nature that secular Halloween has come to embody. And of course, there are those who turn their nose up at modern Halloween because it’s too disrespectful to the cultures it came from and too materialistic.
Honestly, I find truth in all of those thoughts. Here are my thoughts, but know they are merely my thoughts and not my recipe for Samhain goodness that you must follow or else!
Halloween can be too scary. I remember running out of haunted houses when I was younger and I still dislike most horror films. And I enjoy more whimsical costumes myself. Fairies, historical figures, animals…
Halloween, and Samhain especially, can be too watered down. These traditions originate from the Celts, and it wasn’t just the ancestors who could cross over the veil – it was all of the sidhe realm! Every fairy, goblin, and bump-in-the-night came out. Not all fairies are nice happy things as some modern folk seem to think. That said, not all ancestors are nice either! Nobody wants the unhappy ancestors to visit… And yet, the belief in these Otherworld denizens fueled many of our traditions. Some have suggested that carving turnips or pumpkins into faces could scare away nasty boos. Dressing up in costumes is believed to confuse spirits. People who value and respect the sprits and the Otherworld should feel a sense of fear about Samhain. It adds to the fun but, also, it is good practice to be careful. I know, this time of year, I often look over my shoulder in case the Pooka is about…
There should be more reverence for the ancestors on Samhain. They are part of the reason for the season, if I may borrow that phrase. To completely ignore them feels disrespectful to me. In my belief system, the ancestors come back to visit us and hospitality – towards living and dead – is incredibly important. (At the same time, to only pay them attention on Samhain is equally disrespectful in my point of view).
Samhain can be too somber, and that can make the holiday almost unbearable for some which is a shame when it’s such a sacred time. Sarah Lawless found a way to embrace the carnival nature of the day while also honoring the spookiness and the dead. And it shouldn’t be all sadness, no matter how scary and painful death can be. Joy and fun are the ways we come to terms with death. We remember the good times. Pagan rituals that don’t allow anyone to dress up feel backwards to me. Dr. Jenny Butler recently did an interview on Transceltic and explained many of the fun Samhain traditions, including dressing up in costume on this day. “It is a playful time,” she says, “when it is acceptable to have a subversive appearance, so people can chose to dress as they wish, whether that is as something scary or outlandish.” Trust me, it’s possible to dress in a costume and still feel the fullness of the event. Although I agree that some costume choices are much more appropriate for ritual settings than others!
People have lost touch with Halloween’s roots. Many probably wouldn’t care because they celebrate the secular holiday, and that is fine and well. However, many who embrace Paganism in one of its forms can also forget. It’s a Celtic holiday. It was a time to honor the Ancestors, light bonfires, and engage with the Otherworld. We can get lost in the plastic world of imported costume accessories, racist costume stereotypes, and sugar highs without regard to human dignity, Nature Spirits, of the Earth Mother herself.
So what’s a Gaelic polytheist ditzy Druid in modern America to do?
I find harmony in the blend of Halloween and Samhain.
At least, that’s what I try to do.
Halloween can be too scary. Clowns, for example, are horribly frightening to me. I had a negative experience with one as a child and it left an imprint. However, I can’t try to censor Halloween and tell others not to dress as clowns any more than I can tell someone not to dress as other peoples’ worst nightmares*. I can’t stomach most horror films because they are too gory. I do, however, adore a good ghost story. Halloween should be a little scary. It’s in its DNA! As they say in The Nightmare Before Christmas, “life’s no fun without a good scare.” And it’s true. Sometimes it reminds us what is so precious about life. And that’s why it shouldn’t be all scary. We care tenderly for our beloved dead, for one, and should create a home that is welcoming and warm for them. Bring out the good table settings! And if some people would rather dress as fuzzy rabbits or cute princesses – why not?! Let people have fun on their own terms because, as discussed above, there’s no set costume in Samhain tradition! Get in touch with your inner bard and let your costume tell the story you want!
I have great reverence for the Ancestors, and I could honestly be a lot better about honoring them all year, but I do try. Samhain is a special day, though, when it is believed our beloved dead can return to us. I feel them as the veil thins. They are in my thoughts, my dreams, and sometimes in the corner of my eye. It is not depressing to me, but it feels good to know they want to come see me, check on me, and maybe bestow some kind of blessing. I know I would want to do the same for my loved ones after death. Why not set out a nice spread and be hospitable about it? Why not show that respect while having a good time with the living?
And it needn’t be somber. My experience with ADFers has taught me how to find a good balance between the deep reverence and joviality. Samhain, more than any other High Day, moves me in a way that is almost ineffable. It is one of the few rites where I seem to laugh and cry every time. Even if I haven’t lost someone that year, the sorrow from others impacts me deeply. Again, it reminds me just how precious life and our time with other loved ones is. And so we laugh as well because we remember those good times and enjoy new ones with those around us. To me, you must have both to fully experience Samhain’s mystery.
Finally, in my household, Samhain is deeply Celtic. The holiday came from Celtic cultures, Halloween traditions were brought over by Irish immigrants, and those are deeply respected under my roof. If you should stop by, expect to hear some Irish music playing. Expect to see carved turnips. If you come to a Northern River’s ritual on Samhain, expect to see us honoring the ancestors as well as the Tuatha de Dannan. In my opinion, to have a ritual with any other cultural focus but Celtic (a specific culture or pan if you must), is just nonsensical since the holiday has Celtic roots and, chances are, the other culture you wish to honor already has a holiday with similar traditions. If you must celebrate using different cultural symbols, why not just research that culture and use the name they would have instead of one originating from Celtic languages? And although I will be embracing the Celtic traditions to the best of my ability, I’m still a modern American of mixed cultural background. You will hear modern Halloween songs playing along with the traditional and folk. You’ll see big orange and white pumpkins along with the turnips. You’ll see me handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, although, this year, I’m doing my best to give out more eco-friendly varieties**.
But that is just in my sphere of influence!
If I visit your household or your spiritual circle and find you doing differently than I, I will respect you as a human being. I understand we aren’t all cut from the same spiritual or cultural cloth. I know some of us find value and purpose in celebrating differently. It’s not my place to throw my weight around. Several years ago, I tried to argue with folks who wanted to do a completely Hellenic rite while calling it Samhain and it didn’t end well. I’ve grown up since then and realize that is not the way to conduct myself. I may not do things the same way or agree with you, but I would rather work on finding my own harmony with Samhain than insist on how you should find yours.
On that note, no matter how you celebrate, I hope you are just as excited to celebrate Samhain! Wishing you a blessed Samhain my lovely readers!
* There is, of course, a time and place for some costumes. We all have our boundaries and we must respect the wishes of hosts and hostesses. In other words, if you show up to my home as a clown, I may punch you in the face! :P
** Even if you can’t afford organic candies, at least try to avoid chocolate that isn’t fair-trade. Human dignity and preserving the world’s biodiversity are worth more to me than an affordable chocolate fix!
I was very touched by this post from the blog “A Forest Door.” There has been a lot of drama in the “Pagan” online community lately. Paganism vs. Polytheism. Secular Humanists Pagans/Atheist Pagans vs. theists. Vegetarian Pagans vs. Omnivorous Pagans. Pop culture icons as deities vs traditional Gods. The list goes on and on, and, honestly, the topics aren’t new. They come up every once and awhile. It’s no surprise – they’re actually quite interesting! Yet the drama and mental masturbation that result can be completely exhausting. I’ve largely avoided these topics because I just don’t have the mental energy to deal with them right now.
So why did the aforementioned blog post make an impression on me?
The author is showing self-integrity. There are plenty of people writing things that impact, or could impact, everyone in the Pagan community. Or rather, there are a lot of people trying to do that (it’s very hard to please everyone)! And that’s all well and good, but there are still plenty of us who want to focus on our own thing. We’re not blogging to argue or persuade necessarily – we just want to share our thoughts.
The internet is a wonderful tool in that I’ve been able to connect with a variety of Pagan/Polytheistic folk with a wide array of perspectives of deity, magic, liturgy, cultural influence, etc. A great many are fellow ADFers or people influenced by some degree of reconstructionism. Many others are very “eclectic” for lack of a better word. I get that and I respect it. It’s not for me, though. I always feel a bit awkward when getting to know a new eclectic Pagan (online or off). Some are new to the scene and don’t realize there’s more out there than what is essentially Wicca. Others have been eclectic for years and, in trying to be helpful, provide suggestions or interpretations to my experiences that are not of my own religious practice. I appreciate that and find it interesting, but it’s always really awkward explaining how some things just don’t mesh with what I’m experiencing or my hearth culture. And then there are folks who view deity differently and try to get into intense philosophical debates with me. I’ve never been really interested in that… I enjoy learning about different perspectives, but people who try to tell me how and what to believe are not individuals I enjoy spending time with. And trust me – I have a great many friends who view deity differently and we get along fine because we are accepting of one another.
What I’m trying to say is that all of us are called to practice in our own way (if we want to practice a spirituality/religion at all). It’s a beautiful thing! I celebrate diversity and love joining others of different paths for their rituals, but I don’t want folks to feel bad or discouraged when I don’t want to incorporate something from their tradition into my own practices. I also don’t want people to take terrible offense when I embrace history and place value on cultural authenticity rather than “whatever feels right.” I’m not perfect and don’t claim to practice a purely Celtic path, but I try the best I can, and my efforts to infuse my spirituality with authentic Celtic tradition give what I do great personal meaning. I also hope my own readers understand that what I write about is about my experiences in Druidism and Celtic-inspired spirituality. I don’t feel my way is the only way. I definitely don’t want people to look at this blog and think I’m the best representative for ADF or liberal Celtic Recons or Pagans or Polytheists, etc… I want people to look at my blog and see what I do. I keep this blog to record and share my experiences, inspiration, and things I’ve learned. Maybe some of it will be useful to you, but if not, that’s fine too! More than anything, I hope to inspire others seeking to live a Druidic life to do so in the best way for them! My approach is: “This is what I learned in my research, this is what I feel about it, this is how I applied it to my life, and here are my results. Now you try – if you want!”
My friend and fellow ADFer, Victoria, had an excellent question for one of the ADF e-lists today. Feeling secure in ADF’s scholarly approach, she was looking for a way to add enchantment and whimsy to her personal practice. Somehow, the “magic” had fallen to the wayside through her reading and community building within ADF itself.
Druidism can be quite intellectual. You spend a lot of time reading history, mythology, anthropology, maybe some philosophy, and science. If you join a Druidic organization, you’ll probably find yourself writing to complete one of various study programs or to contribute to a publication. If you’re lucky enough to attend a festival or grove gathering, you might find yourself sitting around a fire with other Druids, debating the nature of the cosmos.
Just don’t get too caught up in that! Yes, the scholarly approach of Druidism is a huge draw to me. Yes, it’s important as it provides us with a real grounding in our hearth cultures and the lessons of the past. However, if you don’t balance it with some inspiration and some hands on experience, you’re likely to experience a sense of let-down, a disconnect from the spiritual, or, worse, the reputation as someone who is all talk and no walk!
For me, Druidism came alive when I started to experiment with Ian Corrigan’s Nine Moons system. Although I have yet to finish it and plan to start again when life isn’t as crazy, it’s an approach that had me working with the spirits each day. I didn’t feel so connected until I started to do that… It demanded that I nurture my novice meditation and trance skills through practical experience and practice. It got me making frequent, if not daily, offerings. It had me spending hours in the forest…
And truly, you don’t need the Nine Moons system to do any of that! You just need the self discipline to sit down, to quiet your mind, to make offerings, to express gratitude, and to go outside and just be… listen…
Taking the time to sit outdoors truly opened up my senses. The Nature Spirits, as they are, started to reveal themselves to me. There are the flesh, blood, and bark beings we are used to. We know they are there, but we can take them for granted. I started to notice more, to experience more. Bones began to appear; fungi I hadn’t ever noticed before revealed itself to me; I saw wild animals in person I had never encountered outside of a zoo. It’s been a humbling, deeply gratifying experience to feel that I am forming a relationship with the land – especially after moving here and feeling like a bit of a stranger. And the unseen nature spirits… they too make themselves known, but in subtle ways. Sometimes terrifying ways as they are often mischievous. You have to be ready for that, especially in the more wild places. You have to work to maintain a level head – perhaps even listen and do when you are told to GO. Perhaps make an offering to show kindness, or learn about the old protective charms and amulets… And for goodness’ sake – take care of the Earth! Pick up trash, join/support conservationist organizations (don’t overlook the local orgs that exist in your region!), plant trees, and advocate for the land you love. It goes a long way towards empowering you, the land spirits, and your relationship with them. Perhaps that doesn’t sound terribly spiritual, but such experiences can be transformative for Earth-centered Pagans – just ask Starhawk! The journey is never done and I will always be learning – but I had to take the first steps!
Which brings me to a recent revelation. ADF is my spiritual community. I’ve found it difficult to relate well to most other Pagan groups because their approach isn’t as harmonious in scholarship and inspiration. ADF groves are places I can go to comfortably worship the Old Gods in the way that feels most natural to me with others. I love the chance to celebrate, grow, and socialize with ADFers. And yet… the greatest chunk of my spirituality, the greatest growth, has always been what I’ve experienced on my own at my altar or in the forest. Whether or not you’re in a grove or even a bigger Druidic organization, you are always a solitary in some way. And you must be! Only you can commune with the spirit realm on behalf of yourself. Are there others out there with more experience than you? Yes, there always will be – it’s just a fact of life. Perhaps they are better skilled to help you in some ways (a lot of spirit work appears to take years of experience), but if you want to grow in your own Druidism, you at least have to try and take the baby steps on your own. Learn from others, heed the advice of those more experienced (provided they demonstrate integrity) – but don’t ever give up on your own. If you have to take a step back for awhile, it’s never too late to come forward and pick it back up, review, and resume.
If you are like my friend, and are looking for the whimsy in Druidism, then I encourage you to go out and find it – or make it! Embracing the magic of your hobbies is an excellent way to start. Approach making meals as kitchen magic. See sewing, crochet, spinning, painting, weaving, sculpting, leatherwork, smithcraft, dance, song writing, poetry, etc as the magical practices they already are! Pray to an appropriate deity or spirit before beginning a hobby and always thank him/her/it for the help and inspiration! Talk to your houseplants, view their care as part of a magical relationship, and thank them when you harvest. Pray before eating, traveling, sleeping… Yes! Pray! It’s not just for monotheists!
Finally, stop worrying so much. Enchantment exists everywhere but you have to stop and see it – experience it! Sometimes, as in forming bonds with the land, it takes time. Others it’s right there to be had! It’s as simple as brewing a cup of tea and whispering your words… It’s as easy as pouring an offering in the light of the moon… It’s as electrifying as stepping beyond the hedge after sunset… It’s as satisfying as dancing around a fire, even if that fire is only a little candle in your bedroom. Put your anxiety aside, dress yourself with a smile, and dance like the wild child you always wanted to be!
Allow yourself to be enchanted! The growth will come in time.
When we decided to try having a baby, my husband and I were well aware of the fact that doing so would mean putting some of ourselves aside (at least for a little while). We must re-prioritize how we spend our excess money and time. Traveling will be a little difficult for a few years. Spontaneous nights out at the movies will stop until the little one is old enough to come along (here’s hoping there are some good children’s movies in the making!). I’d like to think I’ll still be able to do the crafting I like, but even now my energy levels aren’t what they usually were. Any sewing or fiber work I’ve done has been for the baby or my future niece (although I did take time to make my friend Corinne a pair of owl earrings). I don’t see that changing any time soon. My desire to vend has vanished for the time being. I’m planning to “close” my certificate of authority allowing me to sell at craft fairs. I will probably make more pieces to put in the ADF store or other local shops in the area, but I’m no longer taking consignments. Any free time I have to craft, I intend to spend it expressing myself just how I want, making things for the protogrove, or for my baby.
A fellow blogger, Octopusdance, wrote about “Pagan Monasticism” the other day and it got me thinking. I remember a younger me wishing I could just go away from the rest of society and focus intently on my spiritual path. I would spend my time in a self-sufficient community of like-minded individuals. We would grow and prepare our own food, tend a garden sanctuary to the Nature Spirits, make our own tools, teach each other our specialties, commune with the Spirit World, meditate, and study. And of course, nights would be spent around the fire telling stories, singing songs, and drinking our own homemade meads, ales, and wines.
What a dream, right? Now, initially I was thinking of such places as child and spouse-free because, let’s face it, family creates distraction. Monastic life couldn’t be for me, at least not in this life.
Then something dawned on me. I was thinking of a deeply spiritual life through the lens of Christianity and Buddhism. I suddenly recalled reading about the ancient Druids’ ability to marry and have children (Ellis, 82). Indeed, Irish stories are full of Druids having liaisons and children, and the Gods themselves were constantly trysting and marrying. Why would the Druids limit themselves if they didn’t want to? Now, of course, we know the ancient Druids held a high place in society. Fosterage was probably a common practice among them just as it was with other high ranking families. There’s evidence that Medieval Irish children were given to foster parents around the age of seven (Bitel, 86). Did this practice exist among the ancient Druids? If it did, seven year olds are far more independent than infants. If a female Druid had a baby, did she take a break? Were her duties lessened? Did the community help her? We may never know.
And yet, perhaps we modern Druids can continue to be (or at least try to be) deeply spiritual while acting as parents. It’s not monastic life, but then again, we modern Druids have embraced an idea of reveling in all of life’s blessings (within moderation) rather than denying them to ourselves. Parenthood is just another joy to be experienced, another lesson to be learned, and another way of experiencing the Kindreds.
So, no, I don’t see myself sacrificing my spiritual life.
Northern Rivers Protogrove remains a priority to me. It doesn’t rank as high as the baby, of course, but I set this whole thing in motion last year with the study group and I don’t intend to see it fall on its face. Thankfully, everyone involved is also very dedicated and very supportive of my pregnancy. My protogrove sisters are excited to help plan a Mother Blessing ceremony for me, and I am hoping to having a baby saining ritual later in the year. I have confidence in them that if I ever need to be absent from a rite, they will perform beautifully! I’ve even had offers from nearby ADFers to come and help with a summer High Day should I not feel up to it as I approach delivery. Even after the baby is born, we plan our rites ahead of time. I’m sure a family member will be able to babysit for a few hours while we celebrate. Bringing baby to workshops, study sessions, and business meetings won’t deter me. I’m hoping to carry baby close, and my husband can easily take a fussy babe away for a moment if needed. Thank goodness for Weretoad! Thus I intend to remain a facilitator and “priestess type figure” for my little community. I do not, however, intend to become clergy anytime soon. I will continue to work on my Initiate Study Program to better serve my community and deepen my spiritual practices, but the clergy training program, and the demands of clergy responsibility, are a bit beyond me right now. Those are goals for later in life.
But what about my personal practices? I guess I won’t really know until the baby arrives. I’ve read and heard that the first few weeks are the hardest. My world will revolve around the baby and recovering. I imagine any energy I have left could go towards a prayer before my altar or a lit candle on Brighid’s shrine. Seems appropriate. After that, I may just set aside some time each week, like a Saturday morning, for meditation and ritual. I am hopeful that I can continue my daily devotionals. Things may be a bit touch and go for the first year or so, but I imagine it will settle out eventually and I’ll be able to have a routine again. It will be a new routine, but it will exist.
My life as I knew it is going to change – already is changing – and some things must be sacrificed for the new life I’m bringing into the world – at least for a little while. Yet I don’t intend for my spirituality to be one of them. If anything, I can see the baby strengthening my Druidism.
I guess only time will tell!
Bitel, Lisa M. Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY. 1998.
Ellis, Peter B. A Brief History of the Druids. Carroll & Graf Publishers: New York, NY. 2002.
Christmas has come and gone, and I know I’m not alone in the Pagan community as I breath a big sigh of relief. While celebrants often feel a sense of regret or let-down that Christmas is over, I am thrilled to be out of such a stressful period. For the last few years, December has come with a certain insecurity and anxiety. Everyone at work seems to celebrate Christmas, and they just assume that everyone else doe! Fearful of discrimination, I don’t correct anyone. I try to focus on the commonalities and that my coworkers mean well. I’m not lying when I play along – I do visit my family for Christmas and exchange gifts, yet having to wear a mask is exhausting. I can’t quite take it off after vacation starts. Although my immediate family knows quite well that I don’t observe Christmas, they still want to spend time with me on their special day. That’s understandable, of course, and I’m hopeful that they’ll reciprocate next year since it will be our little one’s first Winter Solstice. The mask goes on firmly when I visit with other family members who either don’t know I’m a Druid or don’t quite understand and think I’m all about Christmas. It’s exhausting trying to explain otherwise, and most of the time, any attempts are seen as hostile or me acting as a party pooper. So I do my best to go along and enjoy myself all the same.
Every year, I seem to have a traditional Christmas meltdown. High on hormones, this year was particularly bad. I was stressed with finishing last minute gifts, wrestling with what-if explanation scenarios in my head, and girding myself for new questions about how I will raise my baby.
In the end, my anxiety was dwarfed by two very profound things.
Before driving to stay with family for their celebration, Weretoad and I went to my midwife for a checkup. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but suddenly I was on my back and she had a small instrument hooked up to a speaker. Realization dawned on me and, suddenly, I heard my baby’s heartbeat for the first time. It was fast and otherworldly sounding, and yet there it was – the rhythm of life. The midwife confirmed that it was a healthy heartbeat. My husband and I smiled at each other, and he hurriedly found a recording app on his phone so he could share the special moment with loved ones.
Later that evening, we shuffled into our grandparents’ home for our traditional Christmas Eve visit and gift exchange. When my sister and I were little, this included Christmas Eve mass at a Catholic church. I’m in the broom closet with this group, more or less. In December, my anxiety level is always highest visiting this part of my family. We were warned ahead of time, however, that grandma and grandpa had taken a turn. Sure enough, our grandmother was forced to remain sitting the whole time having injured one of her hips. Our grandfather, on the other hand, has been struggling with cancer this year. A side of his face droops due to chemotherapy-related nerve damage. He winced almost continually from pain. My uncles, his sons, were holding off on his sleep-inducing pain medication so he could see us. Gifts were handed out at a rapid pace and we agreed that we should go so he could take his medicine and rest. As we scurried back out into the cold night, my sister cried. I tend to maintain composure in such situations, but it shook me a bit as well. My grandmother, despite her injury, is still very alert, talkative, and sharp, My grandfather, on the other hand, has been reduced from a very active repairman, salesman, town historian, and author to a squinting, shaking, wincing, nearly deaf man who can barely whisper a few words at a time. His face is misshapen and full of chemical-related pain. I recalled something he said to me when I was much younger: “The day I stop working is the day I die.”
Thus Christmas Eve was framed by this juxtaposition: coming birth and impending death. I’ve been reflecting on it since that day, and how timely it is with the themes of winter. We talk about birth and death in Druidism. It is in our lore, our symbolism, our music, our ritual, our art. I like to think we have a greater appreciation and acceptance of the dance of life because of this, yet it always gives us pause when it occurs in our own lives.
I tried my best to focus on family during the Christmas celebration after that. That is, of course, what really matters regardless of religion or holiday. I understand that is not easy for all of my readers, but I’m grateful that my family is as kind, loving, generous, fun, and (mostly) easy to be around.
I’m an English Druid, this soil very much part of my psyche, and the rivers of my home feel like part of my blood. A sense of connection to the land itself is absolutely intrinsic to my Druidry, and if asked to explain what I do ‘priest of the land’ is a description I feel comfortable with. The landscape of the British Isles can seem to be hardwired into what the word ‘Druid’ means. Tara and Stonehenge, Avebury, Glastonbury, Anglesey… these settings evoke Druidry. Orders from beyond these shores claim Welsh, Irish and Avalonian influences even though they are far from the ‘motherland’. You could be forgiven for thinking that to be a Druid is to be a priest, very specifically, of this landscape, and that to live beyond these shores means having your work cut out. I don’t think that’s the case at all.
I’ve been to America twice. The first time, I remember those early views of the landscape as I flew in over the east coast and the absolute sense of enormity. Looking at maps gives a person no sense at all of how huge America is. England has been densely populated for a very long time. We don’t have much in the way of untouched landscapes, but America does. The sense of wildness, and vastness, struck me.
A few days after that landing, I was on a beach, attempting a bardic initiation. Planning it from the comfort of home, I’d rather arrogantly imagined it would be easy. I knew from the moment my feet touched soil that I had a very steep learning curve ahead of me. This was not my land. It was not in my bones, and my ancestors were not part of it. I did not have the rivers in my blood. I had never heard the voices of the spirits of place. The sense of being a small thing in a big place and totally out of my depth, was educational to say the least. I was lucky, though, the beach was used to people, and welcoming enough, tolerant of a lone Druid from another place who had not got sufficient time to really learn to feel any of it properly.
To be a priest of the land, is to be the priest of the specific bit of land you are engaging with. I’d say as a general rule it’s probably wherever you can walk to from where you live. You may find there’s a core, that you really belong to, a wider landscape where you feel passably at home and a point somewhere beyond that where it all starts to get a bit alien.
Every landscape has spirits. Every land has power, sacredness and a need for service. What your landscape may not have, is stories. One of the things that makes the iconic places of the British Isles seem so powerful, is the number and richness of the stories attached to them. However, most of the UK is not in the Isle of Avalon and doesn’t have a stone circle or other mythic place in easy walking distance. I spent a decade in a more industrial landscape where stories of place where few, and I found engaging with the land hard work. I grew up in a place rich with story.
It is through stories that we connect to the land. If your landscape doesn’t have the kind of mythic, powerful tales to make it equivalent to Stonehenge, the answer is simple: Make them up. Invent them. All stories were made up by people, either out of pure imagination, or based on shreds of history, or weaving the two together in ways absolutely designed to give future historians nasty headaches. If your landscape does not have myths, then the greatest service you can perform, is to invent a few. Getting into the details of how to do that would need another blog in its own right, at the very least, but I wanted to seed the idea, because I think it’s a very important one.
Druidry is an international movement. No one outside the UK should ever feel that their landscape is somehow less important, or that their connection to the land less meaningful. Wherever your land is, that’s where you are a Druid. And in truth, there is no definite historical connection between the ancient Druids and most of the UK sites associated with them, although I think a pretty decent case can be made for Anglesey. It’s just stories. Future Druids, wherever you happen to be, can have stories of Druidry in your landscape, if you create them. Listen to the land, and the stories will come, because that’s very much in the nature of stories. They turn up when you’re paying attention, and sometimes when you aren’t as well.
Anyone interested in exploring the subject of modern Druidry’s relationship with ancestry, I’d like to point you at my book Druidry and Ancestors.
I also blog most days at www.druidlife.wordpress.com
By Nimue Brown