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Archive for the ‘Gods’ Category

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.

 

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It was always easy for me to connect with The Nature Spirits.  Upon reflection, I must confess that it was the Nature Spirits who originally helped me decide to turn to Paganism.  I’ve always been an environmentalist.  At a very early age, I started to learn about animals, ecosystems, and the huge amount of damage humans were inflicting upon the Earth Mother and her children.  At the age of five, I was making “Save the Rainforest” posters with crayons and construction paper.  I hung these at the local ice cream and candy shop.  At the age of eight, I became a “beady-eyed vegetarian” and only ate white meat.  At seventeen, I became a full-fledged vegetarian and am still one to this day for environmental reasons.

My parents raised me to care about nature to some degree or another.  My mother taught me compassion for all living things.  I was warned to never to step on an ant because, one day, I might be that ant.  I learned very quickly that animals do have a soul and emotions.
Even now I can’t help but put myself in their place and imagine how they feel.  My father taught me how to grow gardens full of vegetables. Out of his interest in camping, he taught me simple survival techniques such as fishing, boating, and how to make fires.  He always did so with reverence.  He was a volunteer fireman and taught me that nature, like fire, was to be honored and respected because, just as it could give life, it could also take it away.

I took the teachings of my parents to the next level and came to the conclusion that nature was worthy of worship.  I discovered Paganism around the same time I was becoming a full-fledged vegetarian.  I was amazed that there were contemporary religions in existence that not only honored but worshiped the Earth Mother and her creatures.  I felt like I had come home. This went along well with my maturing environmentalism and vegetarianism.  While I will be the first to say that Pagans aren’t required to be vegetarians (nor should all vegetarians be Pagan!), I do think that environmentalism and, therefore, conscious eating, should be a requirement.  This also isn’t to say that all environmentalists must give up eating meat – simply that it’s important for us to consider where our food comes from.  This train of thinking carried me to vegetarianism, but if it carries others to hunt for or raise their own meat, I believe that those are also conscious, eco-friendly approaches to eating.

Eating local vegetables and fruits has also become important to me.  While it’s harder to do so in the winter, I do my best to purchase organic food to avoid chemicals. My goal is to one day eat locally and within season.  Some environmentally-minded friends and I are going to learn how to can and preserve food this autumn so that we can eat local food in the winter.  In the meantime, I’m working on a small vegetable garden.  Working with the soil, water, and sun to bring life out of little seeds has helped me to connect to the life cycles of nature.  Politically, I’ve started to write letters concerning agriculture and the environment to my representatives, and I am currently working on a letter to send to a local Pagan Pride event in regards to the food offered.

I feel lucky to have grown up in a largely rural area.  While I’m certainly not a scholar on the local flora and fauna, I’m always surprised when Pagan authors suggest that a good way to start forming a relationship with the Earth is to learn about such things as what type of birds live in one’s area, what the first flowers to appear in the spring are, and what plants you can eat.  I sometimes take it for granted that I was able to observe these things first hand or learn about them from knowledgeable adults.  I’ve always been a student of nature but I still have much to learn.  I have an interest in sustainable living and thus I would like to learn about the many edible plants in my own yard.  I’ve purchased some books and have gone to some workshops, resulting in some interesting experimental salads!

In addition to healthy, conscious eating habits, my fiancé and I are also trying to be conscious consumers.  We do our best to recycle, research products, and find eco-friendly merchandise.  I’ve switched to eco-friendly deodorants, shampoos, makeup, and toothpaste.  We are also trying to switch to eco-friendly cleaning products.  At the same time, we know it’s important not to waste and so we continue to use those products that we already own.  We have also made an effort to reduce the number of plastic bags we use by limiting how much we purchase, carrying products without a bag, or using reusable canvas bags.  As far as cars are concerned, we share my little Saturn and get 30-35 mpg. We try to carpool or walk to as many places as possible.  It’s difficult where work is concerned, but I believe that every little bit helps and that even baby steps are a step in the right direction.

I said that I still have much to learn.  Some of my latest lessons in nature have come from the city.  My fiancé lives in the city of Utica and I spend a lot of time at his apartment.  These past few years have presented new lessons – lessons about the flora and fauna of the city. I’m now learning that people in the city aren’t as cut off from nature as I once believed.  In fact I think that urban Pagans who are able to find a connection in a city are probably more appreciative than those of us who live in the country.  The more time I spend in the city, the more I’ve come to appreciate the value of my parents’ forested backyard.  I’ve started to consciously look for examples of nature within the city so that I can maintain my connection.  I pay attention to what the trees are doing, I notice and praise the dandelions poking through the sidewalk, and I smile when I see a skunk ambling across the street at night.  Nature spirits are everywhere and one need only look.

My practical experiences are very spiritual.  When I first started to read about ancient Pagans, I remember reading about how they didn’t categorize activities as either spiritual or mundane – they were all spiritual in some way.  I feel myself entering that frame of mind.  When I am in my garden watering the seedlings, I am engaging in an age-old ritual and connecting to the spirits of the land.  When it rains, I thank the rain because it is helping everything to grow.  When it snows, I pray that the snow spirits will be kind to me.  I think that, while I’ve always had animistic tendencies, Druidry has helped me to develop them to the point where I really do feel that everything has some sort of soul or energy.  I feel intertwined with it all and it makes me even more aware of the delicate balance that exists on Earth.  My conscious efforts to be an eco-minded consumer are ways of affirming my connection and devotion to the Earth Mother and her children.

Of course I also feel happiness simply existing in nature.  I love to go for walks in the forest behind my home.  I have a little shrine set up by a tree – a boundary marker, really.  I feel that it is the true entrance into the forest.  I make offerings there from time to time and visit often to feel the presence of the unseen world around me.  I love to meditate outside, to feel the wind through my hair, to make offerings to the fairies. I feel more alive in the forests, mountains, and lakes. In many ways, the Nature Spirits are my first love and it only makes sense for me to dedicate my life to them as a priestess.  However, without the acts of conscious eating and consuming, the offerings and nature walks would be little more than empty gestures.  ADF has helped me to see that my life’s work is, above all else, to honor, worship, and serve the spirits of Earth.

 

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Creating a shrine was not a difficult requirement for me as I’ve been making altars for a few years.  The challenge, however, was making an altar in accordance with a hearth culture and within a Druidic framework.  Having started on a Pagan path through Wicca, I was used to having certain articles on my altar.  When I realized that Wicca was not the path for me, I abandoned some of the traditional tools, such as the athame, and turned my altar into a mishmash of significance.  It was only through the deep introspection and study of mythology encouraged by ADF that I was able to build a shrine that was truly important to me and symbolic of my faith.

When I first started to think about putting together an altar for ADF, I knew it would have to be different from my past altars.  It would require space for offering bowls, something I’d never dealt with before.  My altars used to be built on top of slender bookshelves.  After moving into a new apartment, I decided to use an old vanity that I was not using.

My altar is in the kitchen, the hearth of my home, near the stove.  In the very center of my altar is a representation of the Bile, the world tree.  It is a wand I made from an apple branch, wire, and silver bells, similar to the wand given to Cormac in Irish mythology.  To the right of the tree is a doll/statue I made to represent Brighid.  Below her is a dish with a candle so that I can keep her flame once every month. To the Bile’s left is a large stone representing An Dagda.  I found the stone during a hike I dedicated to him.  Atop the stone is a ring of black twine that is also significant from that hike.  Behind the stone is a lap harp I bought at an Irish Festival.  It always reminds me of An Dagda and his harp of seasons.  Perhaps I will learn to play it one day and I will be able to incorporate it into my rituals!

There is also a representation of the fire and the well on my altar in the form of a candle and a cauldron.  Towards the front of the altar are three small bowls containing tea lights that represent the three Kindreds.  The center candle represents the Gods while the right candle represents the ancestors and the left represents the nature spirits.  In addition to these there is a fourth bowl on the altar into which offerings are given.  There are also a few small incense holders. Everything sits atop a beautiful green altar cloth with black Celtic knots swirling over its surface.  On the wall above my altar are photos of some of my ancestors and a candle that I can light when I want to specifically pay homage to them.  I think the photos serve as poignant reminders of my ancestors and enable me to really connect with them spiritually and emotionally.

All of the items on my altar are significant because they represent something spiritually important whether it’s symbolic of a deity, spirit, or simply the connection I have to the other world or my hearth culture. Seeing these symbols reconnects me and mentally prepares me for the rituals and mediations held before the altar.

I don’t feel that my altar is complete.  There are many improvements that I would like to make to it.  To begin with, I would like to locate more photos of ancestors to put on my wall.  I would also like to find better storage compartments for underneath the altar.  Currently all of my candles are in a cardboard box and everything else is in baskets just sitting there, vulnerable to my two curious cats and all of the fur they shed.  I also look forward to the day when I have a larger home and will have room to expand my altar.  Perhaps I will move it from the kitchen area to the living room to make it more central and accessible to larger worship.  Ideally, it would have its own room one day, complete with prayer mats, a library of Pagan-related books, and soundproof walls for meditation.  One can dream, right?

I have enjoyed creating my Druidic altar.  It has become such a significant focal point in my spiritual life.  Never before did I interact with an altar on a daily basis.  Never before was an altar so important to me.  The altar is not only a shrine to the Kindreds, but a peaceful sanctuary for me.

 

 

My altar as of March 2010.

I moved my altar in the autumn of 2010. Here it is incomplete.

 

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Ellis, Peter Berresford.  A Brief History of the Druids. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers,

2003.

Each Summer Solstice the news media releases a handful of articles on a modern group of Druids worshipping near Stonehenge.  The photos are of regular looking people wearing long white robes and sometimes white head coverings that look more akin to Egyptian head dresses.  They stand in a circle and perform their ritual to the Gods.  One has to ask whether what they are doing is historically accurate or not.  To answer such questions, Peter Berresford Ellis’ book, A Brief History of the Druids, is an excellent starting point.

Ellis’ book is earnest in admitting that he does not know everything about the Druids.  In fact, there is very little in which he could possibly know in our modern times.  Relying on archaeology, linguistics, history, and lore, Ellis explains what is and isn’t known about this mysterious group of people while debunking several myths at the same time.  The book is organized in such a way that he starts with a generalized introduction and then narrows the topic down chapter by chapter.

He begins by describing what is generally thought about the Druids.  Most of our perceptions are shaped by the reports of foreigners such as Caesar and Pliny and are therefore often full of anti-Celtic propaganda (11).  Much of the remaining evidence comes from Christianized Celts.  Everything else must be surmised through linguistics and archaeology for the Druids left no literature of their own due to a taboo against writing (13).  It is therefore difficult to fully understand the Druids.  Everything examined must be taken with a proverbial grain of salt.

Having provided a few disclaimers, Ellis explores the world of the Celts beginning with what little is known of their origins.  These people lived “north of the Alps … from Ireland and Britain in the west, as far east as the central plains of what is now Turkey” (23).    They are defined as Celts based on the similarities of the languages they used which survive today as modern Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton (25).  The Celts, Ellis explains, lived in a society divided by classes: workers, artisans, warriors, and the Druids who represented the highest level of academia in Celtic society (29).

So what of the Druids themselves and where do they come from?  Ellis first delves into the etymology of the word Druid to come to various possibilities.  The first is that the word Druid means “oak knowledge” as drus is Greek for “an oak” and wid means “to know” (37).  Another meaning could be “immersed in knowledge” due to the similarities found between old Celtic and Sanskrit words for water and dew.  Either way, the Druids are already connected with knowledge, trees, and water – three very important things in both ancient and modern Druidry.  However the Druids evolved, they came to be the priestly class who oversaw religious, judicial, medical, political, scientific, and educational matters of the Celtic people.  According to the Greeks and Romans, the Druids were divided into three subclasses: Druids, Vates, and Bards.  The Druids were basically the teachers, philosophers, and scientists.  Meanwhile, the Vates focused more on nature and divination and the Bards were historians, musicians, and poets (51).  This special class of intellectuals, which was made up of both men and women (91) held a lot of power – so much so that not even a king was allowed to speak before a Druid (75).

No discussion of the Druids would be complete without a chapter or two dedicated to their religion and rituals.  So many of the ancient texts refer to them as performing mysterious rites and worshipping various deities that we know religion played a large role in the life of a Druid.  Ellis explains that the Celts were polytheists although several modern men have tried to mold the Druids into proto-Christians who worshiped a single God (114).  There are actually over three hundred known Celtic deities, and several are localized meaning that they are associated with only one place (114).  There are a few Gods who were known in many places.  Ellis provides brief descriptions of some of the better known deities such as Danu, Dagda, Bel, Cernunos, Nuada, Lugh, Taranis, Ogma, and the Mórrígán.  Although the explanations are short, they are fitting for a work dedicated to the Druids rather than the Gods.  There is the possibility that the sudden deluge of Celtic Gods and mythology could confuse and overwhelm a novice, but I’ve found that further reading will help to better familiarize the curious mind.

In dissecting the wisdom of the Druids, Ellis breaks the chapter down topic by topic so that we are given an in-depth look at what we know of their skill in various areas such as magic, astrology, and medicine.  I found this section of the book to be the driest, possibly because I am most interested in the Druids’ function as priests rather than judges and astronomers.  However the section should not be overlooked as it truly shows the rich knowledge of the Druids. They were not simply a barbarian people as the Romans were so fond of thinking.  The Celts and their Druids were very well versed in science and enjoyed many accomplishments.  Anyone of Celtic background should feel a sense of pride when reading about such feats.

A Brief History of the Druids should be essential reading material for anyone aspiring to the knowledge of the Druids.  It first provides a good historical background of the people we in ADF are hoping to emulate and also grounds us in our practice by providing the context for our rituals.  Ellis’ discussions of holy wells, trees, divination, and fire in connection to the landscape, festivals, and mythology help to make sense of our liturgical practices.  A good understanding of why a person practices what he or she does is essential for a truly spiritual, intelligent, and introspective human being. Aspiring Druids should hope to be all three of those things.

The book ends with a discussion on the Druidic revival that has been going on for a few hundred years.  It is an interesting although lacking explanation of modern Druidry.  I say that because Ellis focuses on the romantic Druidic groups and only briefly mentions the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, one of the largest Druidic groups today.  There is no reference to Ár nDraíocht Féin or even Celtic Reconstructionists.  This is too bad because he leaves the unknowing reader under the impression that many modern Druidic groups rely on poor research to create their traditions.  He ends the book by reminding the reader that many Celtic countries are forgetting their language and losing their social customs which is truly sad.  He bemoans the fact that many modern Druids are more concerned with the esoteric aspects of Druidry and not the cultural.  I believe that this is a legitimate concern, however, once more, by failing to explore Ár nDraíocht Féin or Celtic Reconstructionism he is overlooking groups who do require learning about the cultures and at least a minimal amount of language study.  Although students of Druidry must be aware of the historical realities of their Druidic homelands, I feel that the pessimistic ending spoiled what was otherwise a very well-written, informative book.

 

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Jones, Prudence, and Nigel Pennick.  A History of Pagan Europe.  New York: Barnes & Noble,

1995.

 

A side of history that has remained silent for many years is finally revealed in Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick’s work A History of Pagan Europe.  Through exploring the tomes of history, lore, and archaeology, the authors have put together an impeccable overview of the various ancient people of Europe.  In doing so, they exhibit not only how Europe became Europe, but how modern Paganism came to be.  A History of Pagan Europe is an excellent source for Pagan students.  What I found most fascinating were the similarities shared by the various cultures discussed.

Many people of European descent know very little about their ancestors.  The authors begin their work by stating that most people “are more familiar with native traditions from outside Europe than with their own spiritual heritage” (1).  This is sad, particularly so because many European descendants vehemently distance themselves from Paganism even though it has always been there and continues to exist, as Jones and Pennick argue, within our modern society, intertwined in some of our most seemingly secular institutions (1) such as democracy the celebration of Christmas.  The authors set out to debunk the misconceptions about Paganism held by society and show that we really aren’t so different from our ancestors.

The authors attempt to define what Paganism actually is.  I’ve found that it’s difficult to do so in this modern age because so many people, in particular Pagans themselves, refuse to be defined.  I feel that Jones and Pennick come to a satisfying conclusion.  If Paganism is ever to become unified (even though, again, some modern Pagans would argue against this notion), we have to unite under a name and group definition.  The authors first describe how people have defined Pagans in the past.  From country bumpkins to “non-combatants” (as opposed to the “soldiers of Christ”), the word “Pagan” has had a more or less pejorative meaning for the past few hundred years (1).  Jones and Pennick then look at the modern, spiritual definition and conclude that Pagan religions, past and present, share some common traits: polytheism (or some form of worshiping more than one deity), the view of nature as a theophany, and the recognition of Goddesses as well as Gods.  While some Pagans will argue with this, I feel that it covers many of our past and present traditions.  In my opinion, the authors do Paganism at large a service by providing a positive and academic definition.

We then delve into the history of the Greeks and the Eastern Mediterranean, the Romans and the Western Mediterranean, the Celts, the Germanic people, the Baltic people, and the Slavic people.  I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between these different cultures.  For instance, sacred trees kept revealing themselves in each culture.  The authors explain that in Greece “[m]any sanctuaries in later Greek culture centered on a sacred tree…”(6).  Later they explain that “[n]o temple was dedicated unless there was a holy tree associated with it” (20).  The Celts were said to worship in groves of trees (81) and some Germanic tribes also met in such places (116).  The Baltic people had celebrations revolving around ritualized trees that Pennick and Jones argue represented the “axis of the Earth’s rotation” (174).  In Lithuania, there were also sacred groves that were not to be cut  (176).  Everyone seems to have had a sense of the importance of the forest.  I was surprised, however, that the authors did not discuss the world tree of Norse tradition.

Nature was repeatedly venerated in some way from culture to culture. Sacred springs or wells played central roles to many of the old religions.  Slavic Pagans had rituals in which ceremonial dancers “undertook a nine-day ceremony [in which they] visited nine boundary-points, filled a ceremonial vessel with water from nine springs, and prayed to their patron goddess Irondeasa” (190).  The Celtic tribes felt that springs were sacred places as well.  There were springs at Bath associated with the Goddess Sul and “[s]sometimes these springs were thought to cure eye diseases, bringing the light of the Sun to the eye of the sufferer” (88).  In Ireland, “well-worship continues in a modern form, sometimes as a local folk-observance but more often by adoption into Christianity in the form of ‘well-dressing’” in which the well is decorated by the community and then blessed by a local priest (83-84).  The Greeks also recognized sacred springs (10).  The various cultures covered also had strong beliefs associated with fire and/or solar powers, nature spirits, agricultural festivals, and honoring the Earth.  It was interesting to see that, although the cultures venerated nature, they also exploited it. Unlike our modern world, however, our ancestors were very aware of the balance and the need to give back to nature and the Gods.

The dead and the Otherworld were also a common theme.  In Rome, “the remains of the dead were elaborately honored and they were housed in elaborate necropolises…” (26).  Obviously, there existed a concern with the afterlife. We know from Celtic lore that there were times of the year when the dead and other beings of the Otherworld could commune with the world of the living (90).  We know of some Germanic funeral traditions, some from direct observation.  While we may not know the meaning behind the traditions, it is, again, obvious that the dead were being taken care of and that they seem to have been sent into the Otherworld fully prepared for renewed life (138).  In addition, Pennick and Jones point out that the Germans were a bit different from other European Pagans in that they actually felt that their tribal ancestors were Gods (116).  In my opinion, this adds a whole new layer of sacredness to ancestor worship.

There were so many common themes that it would take pages and pages to discuss them all.  Reading about the various similarities helped to reinforce the customs of Ár nDraíocht Féin.   The creation of our altars and what goes on them makes more sense when viewed as a continuation of our ancestral religious traditions.  The tree represents the sacred tree that reveals itself again and again throughout the pages of the book.  The well represents the many sacred springs.  The cauldron represents the sacred fire.  We give offerings to the nature spirits because, like our ancestors, we believe that we need to give back to nature in thanks for what it gives us.  We honor our ancestors like our forefathers and mothers did.  We set up temples and worship in or around sacred trees.  Having read A History of Pagan Europe, I’m filled with a more academic understanding for all that we do in our tradition and it fills me with pride. It almost seems that through practicing as my ancestors did I am honoring them.

Reading the book hasn’t really changed how I practice my religion.  I’ve been recognizing the importance of the sacred tree, well, and fire for awhile now, and have been observing the other customs of ADF because they felt right. Reading about the historical background of everything only reinforces my spiritual practices and gives me a better understanding for other cultures that I may otherwise have never read about.  As someone who has clergy aspirations, it is useful to know that many of our practices are universal throughout Europe.  If I was required to do a Norse ritual, for instance, I wouldn’t feel too out of place after doing the appropriate amount of research on the pantheon.

The book ends by discussing how Paganism has been reestablishing itself, first through the Renaissance, and finally through the various modern movements.  The authors briefly touch on Druidry and Ásatrú, however I felt that they were more favorable of Wicca.  While Ásatrú has more of an honorable mention, Druidry is made to look like a fantasy-based fraternity (211).  Some of the first modern Druids do have Masonic roots, but the authors have failed to take note of other viable Celtic-inspired traditions that do more research and rely less on romantic fancy.  Perhaps it’s because the book was written before Ár nDraíocht Féin and Celtic Reconstructionism were as known as they are now. Meanwhile, Wicca is praised as the “kind of Paganism [that] looks ahead, offering a new philosophy, more strongly than it looks to its roots in the past” (220).  While I’ll never condemn Wicca, I do think that the authors have ignored the fact that many groups, including Ásatrú groups, take on the Reconstructionist principal that religions should be updated for our modern world while holding onto those traditions that are still applicable.  Meanwhile, many branches of Wicca have become just as fantasy-driven as the old Druidic orders.  I believe that having an understanding of history is very important, especially where religion is concerned.

A History of Pagan Europe should be read by every Pagan and history student alike.  Modern Pagans should have a firm understanding of where their traditions have evolved from.  Even Pagans who do not have European ancestry should give the book a try, especially if they live in a Euro-centric country like America or Canada. It can give a lot of perspective on our culture, especially where holidays and our calendar are concerned. Meanwhile, history students should appreciate the other side of the story and see the many examples of how Paganism was not necessarily stamped out, but rather absorbed into our modern world.

 

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Weretoad and I had a lovely Winter Solstice!  I was so excited and in a festive mood.  While he was away at work, I finished wrapping gifts, put on some Solstice music, and lit the tree.  It’s the only night we leave it on and it’s a great reminder of what we’re celebrating.

I also busied myself preparing the feast you see at left.  I made a vegetarian roast with baked scallions, carrots, and potatoes.  I also made fresh bread, steamed brussels sprouts, and bread pudding.  Mmmm…carbs… Magical, wonderful carbs!

In addition, I brought home cranberries and made popcorn to turn into garlands.  We did that after our ritual.  After discussing what we should do, Weretoad and I decided to honor the Nature Spirits who have to struggle through the bitter cold.  It is a hard time to be wild.  Many creatures die.  Food is scarce.  We forget that in our warm homes with our stocked larders.  Our main offering was the garland which we put on the little spruce we keep on our patio.  Next year I would like to do more for deities as well but I’m still uncertain as to who I should honor.  Should I visit the Norse deities of my Germanic ancestors and honor Odin as he rides through the sky?  Should I honor the Cailleach as the crone of winter?  Should I give praise to Angus as he is associated with New Grange and thus the Winter Solstice?  I lean more towards the latter two…  I guess we’ll see what next year brings.

We went a bit overboard on gifts this year.  In years past we kept a tradition – three large gifts and three stocking stuffers.  This year…  we kind of forgot and got lost in the joy of giving to each other.  We really need to restrain ourselves next year.  That said – I got some lovely gifts from my husband!  In addition to some shiny and practical items, he also contributed to my growing Pagan library. I got a recycled three ring cardboard binder – something I want to use to make my new Druidic grimoire.  I also received The Black Pullet (an old grimoire) and Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants by Claudia Muller-Ebeling, Christian Ratsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl Ph.D.  (For my birthday a week ago, he gave me Toads and Toadstools: The Natural History, Mythology and Cultural Oddities of this Strange Association by Adrian Morgan.)  Needless to say, I have a ton of new books to enjoy and learn from!  Squee!

Today I am busying myself with last minute gift sewing and wrapping.  Yes, I still “celebrate” Christmas with my vaguely Christian family.  I love the excuse to see them. They know I consider the gifts I give them to be Solstice gifts just as the ones they give me are for their own holiday of giving and love.  We somehow meet on common ground.  At the same time, I look forward to having my own large home and throwing wonderful Winter Solstice parties for the whole family…  Some day…  This year, I enjoyed my quiet Solstice with Weretoad. 🙂

( For My LJ and FB Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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Today was a stressful day.  It was, as I told my husband, the Monday of Mondays.  Getting to work was not difficult, but once I was there it was one thing after another.  There was a lot of absenteeism today.  Many people are out with whooping cough which is kind of uncomfortable.  I took my lunch break to run some errands.  I sent my grad school application off which was good.  The rest is in the hands of the administrators and the Gods. I then took some time to make what I thought would be a quick business call.  It turned into a very long and stressful exchange, but supposedly everything was rectified.  A second time.  Gods willing, everything is fine and I will get my bloody certificate of authority so I can legally sell at the upcoming craft show!  Everyone was very kind, patient, and helpful so I can’t fault them too much…

I’ve come to accept that it’s going to take me awhile to finish my Initiate Study Program.  Hell, it took me at least a year to delve into my DP, and three years after that to finish.  I took my time.  Who can blame me?  I was working on my first degree while working part time and maintaining various hobbies.  Working full time while attending grad school?  I know I’m going to have my hands full.

I am finding myself less resentful and guilty for my limited Druidic studying.  I do what I can.  I do my short daily devotionals, I pray, I make offerings to Brighid when I sew, and I do my weekly ritual complete with ogham reading.  I practice bits of kitchen magic here and there.  I try to make time for meditations and walks in the woods.  I listen to Pagan music and podcasts.  I alternate fiction with Pagan studies when I read before bed.  I get in touch with my inner self and the spirits through my art.  That is how I am living and experiencing Paganism now.  Do I feel like I could do more?  Sure.  But I’m not beating myself up over it now.

( For My LJ and FB Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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