In my early days of Pagan study and worship, it was easiest for me to connect with and understand the Nature Spirits. I was raised to respect them and even taught by my mother to believe in fairies and unicorns, even if they were part of a different reality than our own. As time went by, I forged some bonds with deities, but it wasn’t until taking up the Dedicant Program that I was truly able to feel connected to and understand the Three Kindreds of Nature Spirits, Ancestors, and Gods.
While I very much believed in the unseen Nature Spirits as a child, I was more aware and interested in the visible and tangible. I have always cared deeply for plants and animals and have been an environmentalist from an early age. As I grew, my animism developed and I came to the realization that there really was more to the natural world than met the eye. As a child, I was bombarded with the modern myth of fairies – little, beautiful creatures with wings and fairy dust. I am still very much attracted to this image and often incorporate such creatures into my artwork, but I’ve come to realize that the Spirits of Nature are as varied as people and that they can be perceived by humans as beautiful, silent, loud, mischievous, disgusting, and, perhaps, aggressive. While some are weaker than humans, others are much, much stronger. Studying Irish folklore and mythology has given me a more mature frame of perception in regards to the Nature Spirits. They are, indeed, the unseen forces of nature that can be creative, like a spirit attached to a garden, or destructive, like the Pooka of Irish lore, and they can come in any guise. In my own spiritual work, I’ve found that I believe that all beings, even the rocks and trees, have souls, and so I feel that they are also Nature Spirits worthy of respect and, in some cases, veneration.
So how do I perceive the Nature Spirits? They are the birds and the song that they sing. They are the rocks in the earth. They are the drops of rain. They are the wind rustling the trees. They are the sequins of sunlight that splash through the forest canopy. They are the trees, alive and decaying. They are the dandelions poking up through cement sidewalks. They are the ferrets cohabiting with me in my bedroom. They are the unseen creatures that move my things without any explanation. They are the rotting corpses of animals on the streets. They are the diseases that we get. They are the unseen forces in the dark. They are at work outside making the flowers and vegetables grow. They are present within the upper, middle, and lower worlds and represent all the elements. I believe that my existence is inextricably linked to theirs and so they deserve to be honored and treated with respect, like brothers and sisters who have their own wants, needs, and motivations. I may not always like what the Nature Spirits have in store, but I’m sure they don’t always agree with me either! As with human siblings, we have to give and take equally and learn to live in harmony with each other.
I am always trying to stay connected with my brothers and sisters or nature, as well as the Earth Mother, whom I see as a Goddess and mother of all life. I try to learn about the seen and unseen Nature Spirits, and I try to live in harmony with them through environmentalism and vegetarianism. I thank them before eating. I remember them in my rituals and make offerings to them. I’ve kept in mind that some offerings may be harmful to nature spirits, and so I avoid chocolate and sharp objects left out in the open. My favorite offerings to give are flowers and birdseed.
I will speak of the Gods next, not because they are less important than the Ancestors, but because my relationship and familiarity with them was the easiest for me to experience next. Despite my Roman Catholic upbringing, I always had a fascination with mythology from a very early age. One of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons was a series of animated Greek and Roman myths. The exploits of Herakles, Castor, Pollox, and Jason mesmerized me and the Gods captivated my imagination. Visiting museums and seeing statues from Egypt amazed me. Who were these mysterious beings? The statues exuded a power. For me, this power was a calling and made me want to dance. I continually felt the pull of the Old Gods. The more I read about them and devoted time to them, the more they seemed to “talk” to me. At first, it was difficult to go from monotheism to the duotheism of Wicca. There was a certain taboo about it and, with it, a certain fear of the unknown. Gradually, I started to form a relationship with Gods and Goddesses. First it was the Greek and Egyptian Gods, probably because I was most familiar with them. I had dreams of Dionysus and Bast. It was easy as an eclectic Wiccan to worship both at the same time, but it wouldn’t satisfy me for long.
Here I am, a few years later, worshiping the Tuatha de Danann of the Irish. I don’t know how it happened, and it was probably through my love of Irish music and Arthurian myth, but I was called by the Old Gods of the Green Isle, the home of my ancestors. As with the Nature Spirits, studying Irish myth and legend has helped me to understand the Tuatha de Danann immensely. Studying the myths and legends of other cultures has deepened my awareness of many other deities. My Roman Catholicism and its veneration of various saints helped ease me into polytheism, and I now consider myself a hard polytheist. I believe that, for the most part, the Gods can reside in any of the three realms and often interact with and interbreed with the Nature Spirits. Because the Gods are so tied to the land and various natural phenomena, they further sanctify the environment. Some of the Gods, like the Tuatha de Danann, are local deities and so I’ve come to believe that they mostly live in Ireland. The same is probably true for other deities as well, such as Aphrodite dwelling primarily on the island of Cyprus. However, as the Gods are more powerful than humans, I believe that they can interact with humans who are far from their sanctuaries. While I don’t believe that you have to be Irish to love and worship the Tuatha de Danann, I can’t help but feel that my connection to them is partially due to my blood ties to Ireland. I feel that it enables an easier connection. I also feel that repeated ritual and interaction with certain deities at an altar or through a talisman can, in some way, create a home away from home for them and that their energy becomes imbibed in foreign places where they are frequently made welcome (such as the powerful seeming statues in museums). I also think that Gods associated with certain energies, such as arts, can manifest while a person is tapping into those energies. I believe that the Gods are the most powerful and wise of the Three Kindreds and that they know how to use magic in ways that humans can only dream of. Like the Nature Spirits, and like human beings, I believe that the Gods are all individual and have their own personalities, faults, and motivations. Many, like Brighid, Odin, Thor, or Prometheus, have given us different arts and protect humanity. Others, like the Morrigan or Loki, are a bit harder for me to understand and seem more interested in protecting the land or chaos rather than the tribe. I don’t consider them evil – they have their place, but they can be hard for humans to relate to. As a former Catholic, it is hard for me not to subjugate myself to the Gods. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing to do, but I think the Tuatha de Danann, or the Gods of any other Pagan culture, prefer that their followers view them more as kin – incredibly powerful and wise kin – but kin all the same. I envision them to be a bit like parents, teachers, or tribal leaders.
I try to connect to the Gods in many ways. The first is through study. My fascination with mythology and ancient history has eclipsed all other academic interests. Not only am I learning about other cultures and world history, but I am having fun as it is intrinsically satisfying. Perhaps it is because through study that I am able to get to know the Gods and the other Kindreds and so my soul becomes happy. I also connect to the Gods through ritual, meditation, prayer, art, and dance. In ritual, I am able to express my love for the Gods and honor them for their many blessings. In meditation, I am able to contemplate and maybe even receive a message from them. In prayer, I talk to them. I mostly thank them for any number of things, but there are times when I ask for help as well. I always ask that Lugh, protector of travelers, and Cernunos, the Gaulish God of animals, protect me or those I love while on the road. I also pray in thanks before each meal. I feel that I’m able to connect to the Gods through art and dance because those activities connect me to a very spiritual part of my brain and soul and allow me to open up to the inspiration of the Gods, especially to Brighid. Dance is especially helpful because it can put me into a trance and open me up in ways similar to meditation. Another way I show the Gods I care is through service to them and the other Kindreds. By leading rituals and keeping to my oaths, I am building lifelong relationships with allies who deserve to be honored due to their many positive influences in my life. I no longer consider myself an eclectic Wiccan duotheist but a hard polytheist, a priestess to the Tuatha de Danann, and a Druid in training with Celtic Reconstructionist tendencies. I feel that the Tuatha de Danann called me to this.
Finally, ADF has helped me form a closer bond with my ancestors. When I began to study and practice Paganism, I didn’t consider my ancestors as part of my belief system. I knew that Native Americans and Shintos highly honored their dead and, in some instances, created altars for them. The only real emphasis on the ancestors in Wicca was to remember them on Samhain. There were a few Samhains where, indeed, I felt their presence strongly. Some books recommended that special altars be made, or that places be set aside for the ancestors at a Samhain meal. I never really did that – at most I threw some bread out for the souls of the dead as an afterthought. As a whole, it felt that Wicca only honored the ancestors on a certain holiday and forgot about them for the rest of the year. Because of this, my connection with the ancestors was not considered and not developed until I began my Druidic studies.
A year or so before my calling to Druidry, my Aunt Debbie died of cancer and I felt that I should do something special for her on Samhain. I made her a bouquet of evergreens as I felt they symbolized never ending life. I wasn’t sure where her grave stone was (indeed, she had yet to have a stone installed), so I tossed the bouquet into the air and did not look back at where it landed, content to believe she caught it. I did not even think that throwing it meant the bouquet was trash rather than a gift. To me, it was the easiest way to make an offering to her.
As I’ve progressed through ADF, I’ve felt a stronger pull to my ancestors. It feels as if they are happy to be part of my daily practice. I light a candle for my ancestors as part of my daily ritual. At larger holidays, more is offered. I feel like the ancestors really do watch over us. Whether they are right with us or watching from a distance when they feel it necessary, I do not know. Celtic lore says that the dead go to the Otherworld, and I do believe in such a place, but I can’t help but feel that they are able to communicate with us in some way, especially around Samhain and Beltaine. I believe that care and concern do not end at death. I also believe that some of the dead can get trapped in the world of the living as ghosts.
I would like to honor more of my ancestors on Samhain such as my Grandmother and Grandfather. Truly, I think of my ancestors every day now, but I feel that the entire day of Samhain should be planned around visiting the graves of relatives. Honoring ancestors needn’t only be about immediate relatives or even recent friends and relations. When I visited England a few years ago, I felt very connected to the land. I was very much aware of a presence linked to my own blood. As I toured historical landmarks like White Tower, Westminster Abbey, or even Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris or St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, I felt as if I was connecting with people from long ago. I was so aware of the feet that had walked where I was walking, wearing down the stone steps until they were smooth with time.
Today I do my best to honor and remember my ancestors. I make offerings, verbally thank the ancestors, read their stories, research their land, and anticipate visiting my ancestral homelands. We are here because of our ancestors and we should not limit our celebration of them to one day in the year.
Because the ancestors are human, it seems that they would have been the easiest for me to connect to. It may have something to do with my grandfather’s obsessive interest in genealogy. I’ve had my ancestors pounded into my head since a very young age, so I may have been resistant to thinking any more about them. I’ve also considered their humanity to be a deterrent, possibly because I’ve viewed them as just mundane humans who died a long time ago. To a younger me, otherworldly beings were infinitely more fascinating. Having matured, I’ve realized the importance of family and heritage. I am proud of where I come from. I often ponder my Irish and Germanic background. I worship the Tuatha de Danann, but I sometimes feel the pull of my Germanic ancestors. I sometimes wonder if there is an easy way to integrate the two hearth cultures together to satisfy my gene pool.
The Three Kindreds have many differences, and yet they have many similarities too. This essay could extend for pages as I contemplate the many ways that they overlap. Their main similarity, as far as I’m concerned, is that they have made my spiritual path seem whole and balanced. Honoring the Three Kindreds not only helps me to form bonds with the Gods, but it keeps me connected to the Nature Spirits with whom I cohabit, and helps me to remember my very large, very extended family. I am grateful to have grown closer to the Nature Spirits, Ancestors, and Gods and hope that my ability to honor, love, and worship them deepens and matures with the years.