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Irish breakfast tea with homemade scones and locally made jam. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017

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Daniel’s Memorial Dragon Garden – Photo by John Crump, 2017.

The transition from winter to spring was marked by a tragedy within my own community and grove. A friend, someone I started studying Paganism with back when I was in college, suddenly passed away.  It was very sudden and heartbreaking, especially as he left my friend (his wife), and their daughter on the corporeal realm.  After discussing his wife and daughter’s wishes, the grove (of which he was a member) came up with the idea to create a memorial dragon garden in his memory.  The Yoga Center, where we have most of our rituals, allowed us to keep it on their land near the fairy gardens.

We gathered for the Spring Equinox and created it as a magical working.  It was part to memorialize our friend, part to heal our hearts, and part to strengthen our bonds.  In addition to studying Wicca with him when I was in Utica, he attended Muin Mound Grove for many years, then joined Northern Rivers Grove last year.  The two groves came together to honor him in our working.  It was probably the hardest ritual I ever lead.    As we took turns placing stones or figurines in the garden, we shared memories.  There were many tears and hugs.

I spotted these daffodils growing in the hedge.  I wonder if someone tossed a potted plant and now they’ve gone feral.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017.

We focus so much on rebirth at this time of year. The death of a friend and grovemate has had me focusing on the death part that is so necessary for the cycle to renew. We get caught up with the flowers in the spring that we can forget the decaying leaves that nourish the plants. Honestly, thinking about how I will go back to the Earth and contribute to that gives me a strange comfort. All the same, it doesn’t make these partings any easier.

No buds, but the wildflowers were growing in late April.  I need to go back and visit…  Red trilliums are such a beauty to behold.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017.

I collected big, heavy bag of trash in the woods for Earth Day.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017.

I went into the woods around Earth Day to keep with my tradition of picking up some trash that time of year. I usually try to pick up some trash whenever I go into the woods, but I put in extra effort around Earth Day. The effort is my offering to the local spirits. I wondered if any of the Dead lingered in the woods, watching me remove the garbage…

We celebrated Bealtaine with laughter and joy. We danced around a Maypole and we jumped the embers for cleansing and good luck. We missed old friends, those who moved away, and our friend who passed beyond the veil. We called on the fertility of the land, and I contemplated the role our Ancestors have in abundance.

Shortly after Bealtaine, I took part in my friend’s very small and private funeral. We met up with his family, another grovie, and a friend from the eclectic circle in Utica. There were elderly people and babies gathered in a small circle of mud boots and umbrellas.  We were surrounded by trees that held great significance to my departed grovemate and the most magical balancing stones. The sky cried buckets.  While others moved soil, everyone chanted:

Earth my body
Water my blood
Air my breath
And fire my spirit…

I thought of all the Dead around us, mingling with the soil, the waters, the air, and in our own spirits…  It was a sublime moment.  One that will stay with me forever.

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The book on my altar near my Brighid candle and doll.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

This post has been on my to-do list forever.  Those who have followed me for awhile know that I haven’t been updating as regularly.  Blame motherhood.  Thank goodness for spring break!

First, a disclaimer – I did not buy this book.  I won this directly from the author as part of a publication giveaway!  I was very excited because I so rarely win anything, but Brighid has a way of making good things happen in my life.  A Pagan Twitter friend pointed me towards Courtney Weber and I’m so glad she did.  The author is a delightful person full of passion.  She offers several workshops and classes on Brighid as well as tarot.

This is the third book I’ve read specifically focused on Brighid.  I am devoted to her, so I really enjoy delving into such material.  The first was The Rites of Brigid: Goddess and Saint by Sean O Duinn, and the second was Tending Brigid’s Flame by Lunaea Weatherstone.  In addition to those, I have read several more general books on religion and mythology in Ireland and a bit in Scotland.  I think Weber’s book is excellent for newcomers; there’s so much information there, but she presents it in a warm, narrative style.  Her enthusiasm is infectious.  The lore is accessible, in part because she included her own retellings and interpretations.  While reading those once and claiming to understand everything would be misguided, I’ve found that retellings act as a scaffold when I later read closer translations of Irish mythology.  (Similar to how an easy English text can assist English language learners grasp more complex novels.)

Some information should be taken with a grain of salt.  Weber is one who believes that An Morrigan could be Brighid’s mother.  She also spent a tiny bit of time talking about Maman Brigitte – a Voudon figure I was unfamiliar with.  I’m open-minded, and it’s important to be aware of these possible connections, but also recognize that Weber is sharing her own UPG.  It may very well inspire and inform your practice!  (I was excited to see that Weber also feels Brighid appreciates cinnamon – something I’ve intuited for years.)

Inspiration was my biggest takeaway from the book.  If you have read a decent amount on Irish mythology and folk practice, most of the information will be review.  However, I found Weber’s personal story to be reinvigorating.  The book exists because the goddess demanded it.  Writing and researching was part healing process, part devotional, and part pilgrimage for the author. Oaths are very important in Celtic-inspired faiths, so it was fascinating for me as a Druidess and writer/artisan to see into what is often an intimate process.  I also enjoyed some of the spellwork Weber suggested to grow closer to Brighid.  Much of it was definitely inspired by Wiccan practice (calling the quarters), but the prayers and ideas could be adapted into ADF or reconstructionist ritual as well as she was inspired by Celtic lore and practice initially.  There are many other ideas that individuals or groups could try if their Imbolc or flame keeping rituals and routines have become stale.  The pictures are wonderful.  I always enjoy seeing photos of other peoples’ altars, and there’s a great step-by-step guide to weaving a Brighid cross for those new to the process.

One other noteworthy aspect of the book is the emphasis on giving back to the community.  Weber spends some time discussing the saint’s charity work, and exploring Brighid as a warrior and champion of women and children.  As I read, I felt a strong push to help those in need.  This has been reiterated in my trance and meditation work, and my grove has been talking about taking up collections for a local women’s shelter in the near future.  It’s a start, and it’s partly because of this book!

If you work with Brighid, I recommend this title.  If the goddess is new in your life, this will serve as a great introduction.  If you’ve been Brighid’s priestess for a few years, this may reinvigorate your practice.  You can order Weber’s book on Amazon  or directly from the author.

Next on my Brighid reading list – Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge, and Healing Well by Morgan Daimler.

My otter drum.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017

I put many things on the back-burner after having my daughter.  Attending drum circles at the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center was one such thing because it’s meant for adults.  The purpose of their monthly circles is to trance, and most of us know that kids do not mix well with that practice.  My husband graciously offered to keep our little one busy while I headed to the drumming I had been craving for months.

The circle always starts with prayers and offerings.  The style is determined by the facilitator who often looks to lore surrounding the seasons and full moon.   He then leads a guided meditation which may or may not help participants find a focus for the drumming.  Mine centered around horse imagery.  A horse approached me and told me that it’s time to reclaim my Sagittarius nature; I need to get out there and have the adventures my soul  needs to stay happy.  Drum circle is something I’ve been wanting to get back to, and it’s something that allows me to have adventures of spirit and mind.

Although I have tried to revamp my trance practice, and I do engage with different techniques on my own, it seems that something always interrupts my routine.  I’m hoping that I can continue to attend monthly drum circles to reinvigorate my momentum and share with like-minded people. It will feed my Sagittarius soul.

To further drive home the horse energy, drumming brought out an unexpected visitor in the form of Macha. I found myself on her, riding her through a verdant field.  I remember the tops of grass whipping against my legs and the wind in my hair. I typically do not work with goddesses associated with war.  I’ve done some work with An Morrigan in the past when facing difficult situations, but my closest divine relationship is with Brighid and, in particular, her domestic and artistic sides.  My experience with Macha was one of physical power.  She took me for a ride and I got a sense that I would need such strength soon.  She is a goddess you do not mess with or else she will curse you.  She is associated with the land of my ancestors from County Armagh.  I need to pull my books out and learn more.

I will have to contemplate her visit and what it means for me.  Based on what I see from other peoples’ visions and dreams lately, I think many of us need to call on our inner warriors to stay strong in times of difficulty.

 

Perceptions

 

I was in high school when I started to seriously study and practice any form of Paganism.  I was solitary except for a few experiments with an equally curious friend.  I didn’t meet any other Pagans in person until college.  The introductory books did not prepare me for the diversity in our community.  I remember an elder  looking down his nose at me when I blurted out a socially awkward “Blessed be!” in the local metaphysical store after I heard what he was talking about.  (We later had a very positive relationship.)  I vividly remember the first time I met a self-proclaimed Vampire.  (It was really uncomfortable.)

Although I never experienced witch wars or anything like that, I occasionally butt heads with people in the eclectic group I belonged to in Utica.  I came to realize Wicca did not resonate with me, but many people in the group embraced it or its teachings.  I realized I was a polytheist, a liberal reconstructionist with a blossoming interest (calling?  obsession?) in Irish culture.  I no longer embraced the Law of Three or the Rede.  Fueled by youthful passion, I wanted to remind everyone, whenever I could, that I didn’t always share their perspectives. While I seldom work a curse, studying Irish (and other Indo-European lore) revealed that it was part of those cultures and not demonized in any way.  Indeed, some of the earliest Irish curses are against inhospitable rulers who were not treating their people with dignity.

The moment you admit any of that, the moment you dismiss the Law of Three, the moment you stand in contrast to Wicca (by your ethics, your tools, your methods,  etc), lines form.  I don’t always mean for that to happen, but it’s been part of my learning curve.  It became painfully divisive whenever I shared my concerns of cultural appropriation when we planned eclectic rituals.   It was exhausting, but I loved everyone I worked with.  They were patient with me, encouraged me to share my own interests, and we always strove to be respectful, even when things became heated.  I’m really lucky that my first foray into the Pagan community was like that.  It could have been worse.  I know many people who refuse to celebrate with others because of really bad experiences.

Now that I’m a little older, I hope that I’m a little wiser.  I realize there is strength in our diversity.  It forces us to think and not become mired in tradition.  It’s good to see things from other perspectives.  Although I prefer to work with and learn from fellow Druids, polytheists, and traditional witches, some of the kindest, smartest, and most talented ritualists I know are Wiccan or influenced by those teachings.  While I find the sacred in the forests and rivers, I now understand that many find it in city streets.  I may be a vegetarian, but I know many who very respectfully hunt or lovingly raise animals, then offer some of the flesh.  I may lean towards hard polytheism, but I understand and appreciate that others see all gods as aspects of one spirit.

If you haven’t already, you should read “Undoing the Hard Work of Pagan Pioneers” by Bekah Evie Bel.  (Fair warning – it’s a Patheos blog update.  They always slow my browser.)  The author explores a topic that I and others sometimes think about.  How society sees us, and how we see each other, play a role in the novel I’ve been writing.  More people are talking about “rewilding” our traditions.  Some are calling anew to Aradia.  In our fight for rights and recognition in larger society, many worry that we have declawed ourselves in the process.  Why is it somehow possible for  Western people to accept that cultures in other countries make offerings, revere their ancestors, talk to plants, or dance while their gods ride them?  When it happens in other countries, it’s interesting, entertaining, it’s so  weird you can’t look away, it’s exotic.  When it happens in a Western country, especially in your own backyard, it’s suddenly alarming to many.  (Obviously, indigenous people live here, but the dominant culture tends to treat their traditions as exotic, too.)  Within our own Pagan community, certain practices will draw ire – you may even be ostracized.  Most people regard Paganism as a monoculture.  Heck, many people within our own community still view it that way, leading to culture shock and conflict upon encountering different traditions.

I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this…  just that I’ve been thinking about these topics.  I seem to come back to them every once in awhile as I reflect on my growth.  While there are definitely certain practices that must stay in the past based on laws and evolved perceptions of human decency, I think it’s important that individuals within the Pagan community continue to grow in a spirit of mutual respect.  We don’t have to agree all the time, but recognizing that not everyone will embrace the same practices or traditions is important to our preservation.  It’s important that we continue to learn about each other and come together to celebrate our diversity.  When we can do that, we’re better able to brainstorm and ameliorate issues concerning race, gender identity, cultural appropriation, elder care, and others challenging our growth. It’s part of why I’m involved in my local FAE Fest and enthusiastically attend PPD – to promote education so we learn about each other, celebrate our similarities and differences, and support each other.

I’m thankful to our Neo-Pagan elders and all they did to help us get where we are today, but I’m ready for certain stigmas to go away within our own diverse community.  The greater misconceptions are more likely to vanish from public opinion when we ourselves stop perpetuating the falsehood that we all believe or practice the same way.

 

 

 

Keeping the Flame

Something told me to check the calendar.  I’m glad I trusted in my intuition; it’s my night to keep Brighid’s flame. So much has happened over the past several weeks. So much has exhausted me. It was easy to lose track. 

How fitting and profound to tend the light the night after we lost power for hours. 

My night has been full of Brighid. I worked to clean my kitchen a bit. I made bread. I worked on the Spring Equinox liturgy. I sang in the shower. 

Thank you for the joy, warmth, and light, Brighid.