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Posts Tagged ‘Muin Mound’

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!

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Another way I am getting ready for Imbolc is by gathering old candles. They are stubs leftover from magic and ritual.
Some say they should be buried, but I no longer do that. The last time I buried a candle, I discovered an animal had dug it up and chewed on the wax. I tend to use organic soy or beeswax now, but I still have some paraffin candles floating around that I bought in the past. Some people continue to gift them to me and I would rather use them than toss them in a landfill. Whatever the material, I came to worry about what the wax could do to Nature Spirits.

This year, my grove had decided to reuse old candle wax to create two new candles. One will be the main offering to Brighid and the other will be used to invoke her as a bardic deity in future rites. It is a lovely idea, and I’m glad to have a good use for old wax. In a way, melting and reforming the candles is the transformation we are supposed to believe in when we commit our old spell materials to the Earth Mother.

This is magical, environmental, and thus very Druidic.

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Imbolc is fast approaching and I can’t help but find myself anticipating it.  As Brighid is my patroness, this holiday has become particularly important to me.  The Wiccan group I used to work with emphasized quiet introspection, new beginnings, and storytelling in the dead of winter.  To them, it was Candlemas.  They did not particularly look to Brighid.  The holiday did not take on any real significance to me until I began studying Druidism and Irish lore.  Learning about and worshiping Brighid was like meeting a long, lost family member.  My ancestors in old Ireland would have honored her.  Customs surrounding Brighid have survived into Christian times thanks to her sainthood.  Some are still practiced in the country.  You can read about some of them in an essay I wrote for the Artisan study program and on Ord Brighideach International, an international order of flamekeepers.

There are many things one can do to celebrate Imbolc.  Here are a list of traditions in my own home, grove, and Irish culture in general.

Brat Bríde

The Brat Bríde (Mantle of Brighid) is an old tradition in which a piece of fabric is placed outside on or around Imbolc to receive Brighid’s blessing as she travels the land.    Different counties in Ireland had/have their own variations.  In County Mayo, for example, the cloth is red and placed besides rushes.  The rushes are brought in during a Threshold Rite (prior to making crosses) and the cloth retrieved in the morning after it has soaked in the blessings.  It is brought in before the sun rises (Duinn, p. 136).  In County Tipperary, a black ribbon was usually used and placed upon a tree (p. 137).  County Cork tradition suggests that the mantle was not washed (p. 137).  Despite the variations, the commonalities shine through. It is a piece of fabric – arguably fine fabric or natural fabric like linen. It is placed outside and brought in before sunrise.  It is used to heal and protect.  The ritual must be repeated yearly to renew the power (p. 138).  Connected to the Brat Bríde is the collection of dew.  Because the fabric would be brought in before the sunrise, often it would have accumulated moisture.  The dew is believed to have healing properties as well.

At left you’ll see my own Brat Bríde.  It’s simply a nice, white ribbon.  I put it out last year for the first time and will continue to renew its power this year – both at Muin Mound Grove during our ritual and on Imbolc itself.  I crafted a linen bag to store it in and adorned it with oak leaves as they are connected to Kildare and thus to the Lady herself.  I use this ribbon in healing rites – not as often as I could, I’ll admit.  I like using a ribbon because it is small yet long enough to wrap around a body.

Flames

Fire is an important element in Brighid’s lore.  People still tend her flame; she is said to place the “fires of inspiration” in an artist or bard’s head; she is a blacksmith; many healing practices require fire (tea, hot packs, warm baths, etc…).  If you are new to Druidism or Celtic-influenced spirituality, lighting a candle on Imbolc and meditating on Brighid and fire can be a very basic but powerful way to mark the occasion.

Food

All good holidays involve food.  To the old Irish, Imbolc marked the beginning of spring.  It’s difficult to see it that way here in Northern NY.  Usually, the snow doesn’t melt until April.  This year, Imbolc is only a few weeks away and we’ve barely had any snow.  Perhaps it really will be spring here?  All the same, the end of winter was a time to feast as the hard times would be ending for another year.  Farm animals, especially the sheep, would begin lactating at this time of the year which meant an abundance of dairy products.  Milk, cheese, and butter are traditional fare at this time.  Many families may wish to make butter using heavy cream.  It’s very easy to do – there are several tutorials out there.  Ronald Hutton states that Imbolc in Ireland began with “a formal supper, shared by the family, to mark the last night of winter.  Very often some of the food, such as a cake, or bread and butter, was placed outside on a window-sill as a gift for the saint” (p. 135).  A family may wish to work together to create a meal then give some of it to the Goddess herself.

Imbolc finds me getting in better touch with my Irish heritage.  Winter time means loads of potato dishes in my household.  A traditional Irish dish is colcannon (cabbage and mashed potatoes).  It’s very tasty and involves, of course, butter!  Here’s my favorite recipe.  In fact, eating potatoes became an Imbolc tradition (Duinn, 97).

Brìdeag

The Brìdeag is a doll depicting Brighid and basically means “Little Bride.”  The doll was carried by a procession through towns.   Think of it as Imbolc wassailing.  The doll was made of straw and wore colors and accessories based on local customs (Duinn, p. 84). The bearers brought her to a home and implored the occupants to show her honor.  Each party had a part to say (p. 90-91) as in the Threshold Rite.  Brighid would be brought in and sometimes placed in a special bed.  I have not fully explored this tradition myself.  I am toying with the idea of leading Muin Mound’s Imbolc rite next year and basing the ritual around the Brìdeag.

Críosog Bridghe

Brighid Crosses are among one of the most recognized Imbolc traditions.  Although some vary depending on the county, they are usually four-armed and made of straw.  Traditionally, they “were … left up for the next year, to protect the house from lightening, and replaced on the next St. Brighid’s Eve” (Hutton, p. 136).  In some places, they are considered fertility charms (Duinn, p. 128).  Although some burned the crosses, they were often buried to produce fruitful crops.  They were also used to pour milk through to bless the liquid (p. 129) or hung in stables to bless the animals (Hutton, p. 135).

In Muin Mound, our tradition has been to hang them as charms against fire damage.  You’ll see one of mine at right.  It is getting lose, but it’s certainly blessed my home!  That cross hangs in the kitchen and I have a couple more in the living room.  Our grove advocates hanging them until they deteriorate.  We do not burn them but rather return them to the earth.  Unfortunately, Muin Mound will not be making any this year due to, I believe, poor wheat production.  If you would like to make a Brighid cross, wheat works fantastically but other reeds would do.  Soak them first to make them pliable.  They seem complicated to make but are actually very easy.  I’ve found that watching another make one is the best way to learn.  There are several tutorials on Youtube!

How Will You Celebrate?

I’ve explained the historical precedence of several Imbolc traditions and wrote about some of my own – individually or with my grove.  There are other traditions.  Some are specific to a region.  I’m getting particularly interested in what my ancestors from County Mayo would have done.  As explained above, their brats are often red.  I plan to incorporate some red on my white ribbon.  If you have been celebrating Imbolc for a few years now and are looking for new ways to deepen your relationship to your ancestors and Brighid, I encourage you to research region-specific customs.  It can be very enlightening!

References
Hutton, Ronald.  The Stations of the Sun A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Ó Duinn, Seán.  The Rites of Brigid Goddess and Saint.  Dublin: Columba Press, 2005.

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midsummeraltar Well, another busy weekend has come and gone! And my, what a busy weekend it was. Things began as planned. Weretoad and I headed to Syracuse after work to attend a vigil for incoming grovies. Only…that didn’t happen. One of our beloved members had a medical emergency. We did some healing work before parting ways, uncertain whether or not there would be a ritual the next day. The vigil, alas, has been postponed until further notice.  But these things happen and everyone was very understanding.  In fact, we were all really worried about our grovie.  Muin Mound is a family and the shock of what happened was palpable.

We spent the night with family in Utica – arguably a shorter drive for us.

The next day came and we didn’t know what was going on until mid afternoon.  Hubby and I drove back to Syracuse for our Midsummer rite.  Everyone wanted to be together and send more healing energy to our friend.  The deities of the occasion were Airmid and Miach, two healer deities.  To postpone honoring such Gods during our crisis would have been a missed opportunity!  The altar was set and we gathered.
Airmid mantle
I’ve been really absent minded recently.  I volunteered to make Airmid’s mantle for the rite.  Everyone was to bring herbs to place upon it.  Well, I made the mantle (as pictured above in its wrinkled glory), and brought some herbs, but I forgot to research them!  I use them in cooking and magic but I didn’t know their healing properties off the top of my head.  I felt really foolish, especially as the point was to bring back the old knowledge, but I’ve had so much to keep track of recently that I’m amazed I even made the mantle!  Everyone seemed to really like it although I wasn’t entirely pleased.  It’s my first real attempt at embroidery so I guess it’s good for a beginner!  It wasn’t burned as I thought it would be – rather the herbs were placed in the field (some were toxic to burn) and the mantle will be used again.  I’m very proud of that, actually.  I love that I’m contributing to the grove.  I should write about the process for the Artisan Guild study program!

Other highlights of the evening included: Brian singing a lovely invocation to Airmid; a new person visited and didn’t seem frightened off; amazing strawberry dishes at potluck which gave me a foodgasm; and our sick member made an appearance, reassuring us that she would be okay!  I pray that she continues to recover and comes back stronger than before!

I left feeling rejuvenated.  I have felt so spiritually stifled this month that a ritual with fellow Druids was exactly what I needed.  I also feel resolved to study up on herbalism.  I have a real interest in it but I’ve only dappled here and there.  Naughty Druid!

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Here comes another action-packed weekend!  After my husband and I finish work, we’re going to Syracuse to initiate a couple new members into the Folk of Muin Mound Grove.  It will be a long night consisting of a vigil, rituals, crafts, pizza…  I need to remember to pack white tapers and some sticks from local trees.  Luckily I already have a nice collection drying inside.

On Saturday we’ll be having our Midsummer ritual in which we’ll honor the healer siblings Airmid and Miach.  I volunteered to make an “Airmid cloak” onto which we’ll be attaching herbs.  The whole thing will be given as an offering during our rite.  I’ll be sure to post a photo of the completed project before it goes into the fire.

Whatever you’re doing for Midsummer, may you enjoy the warmth of the sun, the smell of fresh herbs, and the coolness of the waters of life!

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The craft show went well.  The Stone Soup Storytelling festival was relatively successful given the weather, but I wouldn’t call my vending a huge success.  I sold some things and received many compliments, though, so that makes me happy.  We ended up leaving early because of a storm.  As I said to a friend, my dolls can’t stand up to the magnificence of Thor.  Now I’m home, dreaming up new things to sew, and preparing for a new, full week…

This month, not even half over, has been a mixture of extreme stress, fatigue, and many obligations.  I seem to have long-distance trips each weekend which further complicates my life.  Last weekend saw me in the Utica area for a dear friend’s bridal shower.  I just couldn’t miss it.  The craft show, also in the Utica area, was self-imposed due to my love of art and a desire to help a friend put together a great event.  This coming weekend, we are going to Syracuse to participate in a Folk of the Grove vigil and celebrate Midsummer before running back home to celebrate Father’s Day.  Just to make things more interesting, I work full time during the day and spend three nights each week in four hour classes.  Oh yeah, I’m also planning my sister’s bridal shower. And I’m behind on reviewing a DP submission.  And working on a doll commission…  This month is just too busy.

All the while, I find myself trying to fit The Nine Moons in.  This is supposed to be the month where things really take off and I’m doing more.  And yet…  I just can’t.  Summer classes are the real coffin nail in the situation.  I have no energy most days, I hardly see my husband, and spend hours traveling to and from classes and other cities to fulfill social and family demands.  Trying to fit a three day vigil in last week, and only being able to do it for two days, was a real blow to my self-esteem.  I was hoping to return home earlier today and do my 6th night retreat but things didn’t work out like that…

I was really beating myself up about it when it dawned on me – I should just take a month off.  I can’t do everything.   As much as my spiritual development is important to me, I realized the value of spending time and doing quality work instead of rushing through exercises and trying to fit everything into a tiny time slot.  That’s not how to learn and progress.  It’s not fair to me or the spirits.  Thus, I will do my fourth moon work in July and do my best to meditate daily and maintain my shrine devotionals for the rest of June.

I look forward to devoting more time to my Druidic studies in July…  Hell, I look forward to my vacation in July…  It’s going to be great…

And now that I vented, time for some homework before bed.

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On Saturday I joined my grovies at Muin Mound for our Vernal Equinox celebration and ritual.  My husband took some photos that I will be posting to the grove blog soon, so I won’t get into too much detail, but I wanted to mention a few things about my own experiences that evening.  I’m proud of myself for taking on a more involved role in the grove.  I mean, yes I’ve become secretary and web mistress, but I’m more active and social overall.  I feel like I truly belong and, even when I’m a bit uncertain about things, I no longer feel quite so shy.  I volunteered to lead a part of the Two Powers meditation with the Senior Druid.  This was a big step for me.  I’ve lead meditations before, but never at the grove.  I’m not sure what others thought of it, but I think it went well.  I do think my reversal was far better than the initial calling down.

I will admit that I made a Druid blooper at ritual.  While acknowledging the boundary of sky I started by saying “May the Earth not open up and swallow us.”  I realized half way around the circle (I don’t know if anyone heard me or not) but I quickly switched.  I don’t know how that happened, but it was either ditziness, my subconscious dwelling on the earthquake in Japan, or both.   The recent tragedy was on many a Druid’s mind that evening.  There were toasts and prayers to Japan and to the Earth in the hopes of healing.

The next day, I woke up and began my weekly Nine Moons retreat.  It went better than the previous three and I feel that I accomplished a lot.  I would have liked to do more (practiced Irish, practiced Celtic music on my viola, meditate more), but anyway…  The morning charm continues to grow on me.  I give the water to a plant in my craft room.  Since starting, the tomatoes have been producing fruit like nobody’s business!  Last I looked, there were 11 different tomatoes growing and numerous flowers.

My nature walk was incredible.  I went further than ever before and came across the grim scene of a deer skeleton in a field.  Sobering though it was, such finds are always fascinating lessons on life, death, and renewal.  I think it was a perfect find on the Spring Equinox.  Here I was looking for signs of spring and I found death itself.  The bones (all I could find were the spine still attached to the ribs, hip bone, and skull, a lower jaw bone, and some leg fragments) were clean save bits of flesh and blood.  The empty sockets were wide and all-seeing despite their emptiness.  Piles of fur lay here and there – where torn legs were likely consumed by what I assume to be a pack of coydogs or coywolves.  I stayed there for awhile and then climbed the rocks again to look from afar and meditate on it.  I prayed for the deer’s spirit but was very conscious that this death had given life to the predators.  And who had this deer been?  The skeleton was large so, perhaps, an elderly or infirm deer.  I thought of the other deer, the younger deer, racing away, safe thanks to the sacrifice (however willing) of the older deer.  Had this slain creature once been saved by such a sacrifice?  I thought of myself too.  This past year has found me relating more and more to deer as spirit guides and personal emblems of my dietary and social choices.  I like to think I’m a Druid on the path of the deer.  I thought of the predators that stalk me…  We all have them.  Such thoughts are humbling.  I keep seeing the deer and its brothers and sisters.  They flit in and out of my meditations, trances, and dreams…

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