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Posts Tagged ‘Nature Spirits’

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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Rowan Harvest

I harvested a lovely handful of rowan berries near the river this afternoon. Tomorrow I will thread and hang them to dry for magical talismans. I always look forward to rowan berries in August.

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My Twitter pal Lady Althaea really inspires me.  Like other Pagans and Witches, much of her work focuses on keeping in touch with the land.  She does a lot of foraging and herbalism, and I feel like I don’t get out as much to explore like I used to.  Her posts on her blog and Twitter enchant me, and often inspire me to just seize the day and get outside.  We recently had a discussion about wood sorrel that reminded me I not only had a recipe for wood sorrel soup I wanted to try, but I had a big clump of it growing in my pea pots.  The pea plants were looking rather spent, so I took it as an opportunity to pull them, add more soil, rake it a bit, and plant more for the fall.  I also pulled up tons of wood sorrel for my soup.  The recipe comes from the book Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate by John Kallas.  It’s a wonderful introduction into foraging, focusing on the easiest to identify and prepare.  There are numerous photos to help you feel confident in your foraging. Best of all, many of the plants probably grow near your home, perhaps even sharing space with plants you are growing on purpose!

Anyway, I finally made the soup!  Oh, it was excellent.  Very onion-flavored, but the bits of wood sorrel gave it a real tart kick which I liked.  (For what it’s worth, I used potato instead of the thistle root.)

Wood sorrel soup. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

Wood sorrel soup. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

Other wonderful things are happening in my garden. The tomatoes are starting to ripen, I have some eggplant and even a zucchini on the way. A “surprise pumpkin” is taking shape – you know, the kind that grow out of jack-o-lantern guts!  It makes me excited for Samhain…  One of my favorite signs of August occurred recently – my sunflowers have opened!  I will let them go to seed.  I save some for more planting the following year, but I also use some as offerings over winter.

Photo Aug 13, 6 09 03 PM

Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

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Mystery Apples

Where did these come from? Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

Where did these come from? Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

Today, while visiting and tending my garden, I discovered five immature green apples under a bush. My first thought was “Offerings?” It just shows my mindset, I suppose. In reality, they were probably from some playing children who have a poor concept of modern boundaries. Although, if that is the case, they didn’t seem to do any harm. In some ways, perhaps they really did make an offering, even without realizing it? I keep many whimsical things around my garden: fairy homes, gnomes, and painted stones. Some children might sense something about such a place. I know I was that way when I was a child.

Then again, apples are a sign of the Otherworld.  Perhaps it was just a little reminder to welcome unexpected magic?

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Mama and Me Corn Dollies – photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

Every so often, Pagans around the blogosphere post about whether or not various high days make sense to them based on their path or climate. I definitely agree with the need to pay attention to what your bioregion is doing at certain times of year. It’s how we learn the cycles of our local Nature Spirits, after all. However, as someone who follows an Irish hearth culture, the seasonal lore remains very important to me.  I honor three Kindreds, after all, not just the Nature Spirits.  Keeping the tradition of playing games to honor Lugh and his foster mother’s sacrifice honors the Gods and Ancestors I work with.  Perhaps if I followed a different path, one not infused with Gaelic customs and lore, celebrating Lughnasadh wouldn’t make any sense. Honestly, why people who aren’t honoring Lugh would want to celebrate some hodgepodge of Lughnasadh seems strange to me anyway…

Back to the Nature Spirits.  Referring to Lughnasadh as the first harvest festival sometimes seems a bit strange in light of the previous, smaller harvests that have been occurring.  Greens have been available since spring, and our strawberry harvest occurs around the Summer Solstice, for example.  Yet Lughnasadh marks the time when there are an incredible amount of crops to harvest.  In our neck of the woods, farm stands are loaded with tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, summer squash, plums, peaches, berries, and corn.  The latter becomes available right around Lughnasash, which is perfect for the grain-centric traditions.  While corn is a major cash crop in NY, other grains are also harvested around this time.  The oat harvest starts around now, and the winter wheat harvest finishes in August.  Thus, for someone who works with Irish cultural traditions, upstate NY is a great place to be!  I made a loaf of bread for our feast which consisted of many locally grown veggies.  My daughter and I also used the corn husks to make corn dollies. Yes, corn husk dolls are more of a New World custom, but in that we we are also learning about and appreciating the land we live on now.  We offered these to our Ancestors during ritual, thanking them for all the knowledge about the harvest that they passed to us.

My family and protogrove had a wonderful Lughnasadh celebration.  Whatever you celebrated, I hope you had a joyous time, and that you were able to connect to the Three Kindreds in a way that made sense to you and your region.

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The old shrine. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

Sometimes we have to take a pilgrimage to where it all began – to the source of our spirituality.  By that, I mean the places where we first felt the stirrings of spirits around us, observed the interconnection of everything, and where our soul first learned to dance.  For me, that place is my childhood home – in particular, the forest behind the house.

I grew up able to play in the shade of white pines, sugar maples, red maples, black cherries, crab apples, and aspens.  I learned the name of many plants, native and invasive, and whether or not I could eat them.  I learned how to recognize numerous birds by shape and call.  I often woke up to find herds of deer or flocks of turkeys outside my bedroom window.  Once I even saw a pine marten.  I meditated below those trees, poured my first offerings there, and hailed the moon on that land.  On summer nights, the song of crickets and spring peepers was my lullaby.  On winter mornings, the happy coo of mourning doves was a gentle alarm clock.  Although I was baptized a Roman Catholic, I always felt the most spiritual out in the forest.

As moved into Paganism, and as that grew into Druidism, I started to visit a particular spot often.  I made an Earth Mother statue, placed a small, porcelain teacup below her, and brought her interesting stones, seeds, flowers, etc.  The shrine is still there, although I have to gently remove the pile of leaves blanketing it each visit.  I always feel a mixture of gratitude for where I’ve been and an extreme nostalgia for the childhood that is gone.  I can almost imagine the ghost of my childhood self playing around the trees.  Perhaps that is a different type of Nature Spirit or ghost – the positive energy we left behind in our old haunts?

I wonder what will become of my old shrine should my family ever move. Should I take those relics with me, or should I leave them there for a new child to wonder at?  Who knows if I’ll ever have to cross that bridge. It makes me a little sad to think of all the childhood homes that are now inaccessible to others because they moved away.  Such is life, though.  We can always return in our minds if we quiet ourselves long enough and unlock the memories.   For now, the shrine remains, a special landmark I occasionally pilgrimage to.

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Photo Jul 05, 11 43 06 AM

Our kayaks on the shore of Star Lake. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

Earlier this year, I took to doing weekly omen drawings to gain insight into what would come my way. I recently started to do daily draws for similar purposes, but I use the ogham for that so that I can better learn that system. My weekly drawings utilize my main method of divination: the Druid Animal Oracle. I still love that deck, and I grow more adept at it as I delve further down my Druidic path.

Last week, I drew the bear.  To me, the bear means personal sovereignty.  There is the connection between King Arthur and bears, of course, as well as the connection to the Gualish Goddess Artio (and we know many Goddesses are associated with sovereignty). In addition, bears are quite literally very territorial.  They take what they want, and woe to any human who gets in their way!  I also associate the bear card with hibernation, or rest.

That made a lot of sense to me.  It was my first week of summer vacation, and I truly embraced my inner bear.  I allowed myself to reclaim some of my personal time and energy.  Yes, I attended to basic housework and, of course, ran all over creation to entertain my little one, but I also sat on my butt to read, watch anime, meditate, and just chill.  I really got to wallow in my bear-self over the weekend, when I went with family to a camp on Star Lake in the lovely Adirondacks.

Photo Jul 05, 9 33 59 AM

A loon on Star Lake. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

I enjoyed lounging in and by the lake.  Summer hibernation, Grey style!  I could get used to a view like that.  I think I could handle getting out of bed to greet the sun shining on the water, then meditate on the dock each day in the green half of the year.  And what better place to be a bear than surrounded by pine trees?  I’m truly grateful for that opportunity.  I hope that one day, I am lucky enough to really drawn on bear’s sovereignty, and have my own home or camp on a lake or river.

What a blessing that would be!  After I’m done being a bear, I’ll have to get back to work with my eye on the prize!

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