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Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

I do consider Samhain to be the beginning of my spiritual year, but I also cannot deny the status quo in regards to modern society.  Generations have looked to the point between December and January as the threshold to a new year and the continual existence of all. I can’t deny the power associated with such a movement, even if I don’t always observe it with much excitement.  Last year I spent it quietly with my husband.  We relaxed.  This year, I’ll likely spend it helping my sister move and then celebrating with some of my tribe.

Another thing I want to do is clean my home as best as I can.  Many people believe that what you do at the end of the old year will follow you into the new year, and that we should strive to surround ourselves with the qualities we want to fill our lives with.  I want my apartment to be cleaner and I want to take more time making it thus.  I spent some time today cleaning and organizing the kitchen.  There is still work to be done but it’s slowly getting better and more user-friendly.

I also find myself looking forward to the green half of the year.  With the Winter Solstice pretty much over (I plan to take my decorations down on the 6th.  There’s an old Irish belief that it’s unlucky to do so before or after.), I find myself excited for Beltaine.  I feel a bit bad about that since I don’t feel as giddy over the next high day, Imbolc, which is sacred to my blessed Lady Brighid, but to me that’s more of a quiet holiday for counting one’s blessings.  The Spring Equinox has never been that festive to me either.  Beltaine, though, is another story completely.  The ground will finally be completely or in the process of thawing.  The leaves will be blossoming and the robins will assuredly be back by then.  It is when my grove erects a May Pole and we dance about it to provoke the Earth Mother into fecundity.  It is a flirtatious and celebratory time!  I find myself excitedly looking through seed catalogs and humming Jonathan Coulton’s “First of May”…

This time of year is also when I find myself a new calendar.  This year I am going to use  The Artisans Guild of Ár nDraíocht Féin 2011 Calendar.  It supports the guild I belong to and features the work of several amazing Pagan artists – including a couple of my dolls!

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Ireland has captured my imagination, for better or for worse.  A few years earlier, I never would have believed that I would be seriously studying Irish lore, Irish history, considering learning the Irish language, and worshiping the Irish Gods.  A few years ago, the Irish Gods were “the strange Gods with even stranger names.”  In a society that seems to idolize the Greeks and Romans, we’re just more familiar with their mythology and history.  As a fledgling Pagan, I really tried to make those cultures central to my worship.  In the end, Ireland finally got the attention I now realize it was trying to get all along.

It isn’t that I hated Ireland as a younger me.  In fact, I was very much enamored with anything medieval, and Ireland started to attract me then.  In middle school I went through a phase where I had to read about medieval castles, swords, history, and clothing. I was obsessed with the legend of King Arthur and Merlin.  Above all, I was captivated by Irish music, especially harp music.

Upon finding ADF I felt like I was already feeling a call from the Tuatha de Danann.  I wasn’t sure what to do with this calling, but ADF gave me helpful hints and I began to read voraciously about Ireland.  My interest in medieval culture came back, along with an even greater interest in Ancient Ireland.  At first, the books I read were confusing.  Again, I was dealing with “those strange Gods with the even stranger names.”  As I went along, I soon realized that I was growing more and more familiar, and thus comfortable, with the culture and the Gods.

I first realized how akin the old Irish ideas about the world were to my own.  The Irish respected and even venerated nature as do I.  They didn’t see a separation of the mundane and the magical/spiritual, and nor do I.  The old Irish were polytheistic and so am I.  They felt that art, knowledge, and truth were some of the most important and powerful things, and so do I.  Yet there was more than that.  Something just clicked.

Before I knew it, the ADF rituals started to make sense.  When I first attended a grove, although it was a lovely experience, I was reminded of long, Catholic masses full of mystery.  Through studying the lore and history, I realized that there was a pattern being followed.  I started to understand Gatekeepers, the three realms, the three Kindreds, and so many other theological subjects within ADF through a Celtic, especially Irish, frame of mind.  Somehow, during the voracious reading I was doing, I started to internalize the culture bit by bit.  I found that I believed in the Otherworld, fairies, and even found myself a bit fearful of the Pooka around Samhain.  I pray to the Gods and thank them often.  Slowly but surely, Irish concepts are leaking into my art.  I’ve been sewing dolls that resemble the Tuatha de Danann and incorporating spirals into my projects.   The number three has become very important to me.  I don’t feel like I forced myself to think in this way – I believe that it happened slowly and over time.  I know I will never actually be Irish, but I think it’s important to have a good grasp of a pantheon’s culture, and through the study of said culture, I find myself adopting its ways, however small.  I intend to continue my Irish cultural studies and I’m sure that, by doing so, my perception of the world will shift even more.

Academics aside, I do put a lot of effort into spiritual practice as well.  I try to meditate as often as possible.  It’s sometimes difficult to make the time, but when I do it is very relaxing and refreshing.  I am hoping to study trance in the near future.

I now have a lovely altar in my room.  Every day, usually at night, I perform a simple daily devotional in which I light candles for the Three Kindreds.  I’ve started to form a relationship with the Goddess Brighid and her father The Dagda.  I have representations of them on my altar, a doll of Brighid that I made and a large rock I found on a hike which I dedicated to The Dagda.  I think about their influence in my life a lot and try to learn as much about them as I can.  In Brighid’s case, I’ve joined a flame-keeping group and light a special candle for her each month.  I also feel that practicing a form of art is a way to worship Brighid as she is a Goddess of creativity and crafts.  I bought a small lap harp at an Irish Festival a year ago.  It seemed appropriate because of my love of Irish harp playing and The Dagda’s relationship to harps.  Every so often, I pick the instrument up and attempt to learn something new which I feel is a way to honor him. I pray a lot as well.  In some ways that may be a carry-over from my Catholic upbringing, but I don’t see praying as a negative thing.  I believe that talking to the Gods strengthens our bonds with them.  Every morning, I have a prayer ritual in which I put on the Brighid talisman I have while saying:

I thank the Three Kindreds for their guidance, protection, blessings, and inspiration.

May they continue to bless myself, those I love, and the land,

And may I honor them with all I say and do.

Before meals, I say a prayer of thanks that was inspired by Isaac Bonewits’ book Pagan Man:

I thank the Earth Mother for the food before me,

I thank the men and women who toiled in field, farm, and kitchen to bring this meal to me,

And I thank the plants and animals that had to die so that I could live.

I also have a special prayer that I say to myself when I am on the road, taking a walk, or doing any sort of traveling.  While I don’t necessarily focus on a Gaulish culture, Cernunos has always been very important to me as the Lord of Animals.  And in my readings, I’ve learned that Lugh is a protector of travelers and merchants.  Whenever I transport myself in any way I say, “May Lugh and Cernunos protect me while I travel.”

Aside from my bedroom altar, there are also a couple of shrines I’ve set up outside.  One is right outside the door.  Using a pot, soil, and a fairy statue, I created a shrine for the house spirit.  I felt that it was important for her shrine to be situated in a threshold of sorts because I see her as both a protector of the indoors and the outdoors around my home.  I always acknowledge her as I enter and exit my home.  I sometimes leave offerings of flowers, petals, stones, or other such things.  Further back, as you walk into the forest behind my home, there is another shrine I set up.  I like to give offerings to the Kindreds there, and I feel that it is an especially sacred spot because once, while meditating under that tree, I opened my eyes to see a whole herd of deer standing around me.  It was truly amazing and I felt that the ground was sacred because of that experience.    However, due to the leafy and uneven consistency of the forest floor, I generally don’t do my full rituals there because a flame of any sort would seem dangerous.  I tend to perform outside rituals by my garden under an oak tree using a candle to represent the fire.

Luckily, there are a few groves in Upstate NY.  As of yet, there isn’t one in my hometown of Utica, but I started to visit Muin Mound in Syracuse.  I felt immediately welcomed there.  They tend to perform Celtic rituals for Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine, and Lughnasadh, and Norse rituals for the Solstices and Equinoxes.  This is interesting for me because I get to learn about another culture besides my own.  The experiences with them have helped solidify a lot of my thoughts on ADF.  Seeing an ADF ritual performed is more helpful to me than reading about one.  It’s helped me to become more familiar and comfortable with the liturgy.  So much so, in fact, that I’ve lead two Druidic rituals for the local Pagan alliance in Utica – one for Imbolc and one for Beltaine.  While I was nervous about them, they were successful and well-received.  I now feel a calling to become a clergy member within ADF and serve my local Pagan community.  This calling has grown especially strong now that I know there are at least three other ADF members in Utica who would love to see a grove form.

In the meantime, I’ve helped to organize a study group with the other local ADF members.  We are just starting out, but I hope to see it evolve.  In the meantime, it is a place to discuss our spirituality with likeminded individuals. I hope that we can begin performing some rituals, but at the same time, I hope to continue visiting Muin Mound and other groves to keep things fresh and to help inspire me.

I feel very comfortable with my hearth culture.  My world is now full of spirals, Gods, and hidden places of power, and I feel very connected to some of my ancestors.  That is…  some.  While I feel very at home with the Tuatha de Dannan and my Irish hearth culture, my ancestry is not just Celtic but also Germanic.  There are times when I feel little tugs from Norse Gods, like Thor, and I feel that it is because I’m ignoring a part of my genes.  Here and there, I’ve picked up a book on Germanic culture and lore.  I hope to one day figure out how to balance between these two hearth cultures.  It will take some time, study, and practice, but I’m sure that I will be able to do it.

As I near completing my Dedicant Program I look forward to the future and what it brings to my soul.  I can see myself serving my community, growing as an artist through spirituality, learning more and more about the world around me, growing more adept at meditation, and learning Irish.  I hope that I am one day able to help lead a nemeton and provide guidance for future Druids.  ADF has given me reason to want to serve the Pagan community at large rather than just myself.

 

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Samhain is my favorite holiday.  I love the Winter Solstice as well, but there’s something about the magic of this liminal time…  Perhaps it’s the vague boundaries, whimsical to ridiculous costumes, celebrations, harvest food, or simply the visible changes all around.  It’s a great time of year and, for many, it’s when magic and “energy” are most noticeable.  In my opinion, it’s because Samhain and Halloween seem to officially usher in the holiday season.  There’s a thick anticipation in the air mixed with stress and joy.

Samhain snuck up on me this year.  I felt more prepared for it last year after planning my wedding.  I haven’t even carved pumpkins yet, and I realized this morning that I forgot to buy turnips.  Since finding a home in Druidism, I’ve made the effort each year to make a traditional Irish jack-o-lantern with a turnip.  It’s a small thing but I feel connected to my ancient ancestors when I do it.  Perhaps I still have time, but the fact that I’ve forgotten this long makes me sad.

In my defense, I have been very busy. I’m dressing as a woodland fairy this year and I made most of my costume from scratch.  I’ve also been working on the new Artist Trading Card project that the ADF Artisan Guild is starting!  I will be sending my contribution tomorrow and I hope the recipient likes what  I made.  I promise to post photos after it’s been received.

I’ve also been working on other crafty projects in anticipation for an upcoming craft show in my home city.  Check out the latest tree spirit.

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

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The latest post on The Wild Hunt inspired me.  Today I did a formal ritual to honor, well, the spirit of America*.  Most people who know me realize I’m not the most patriotic person in the world.  I’m proud of my country, but not blind to its offenses.  I also don’t fly a million little flags around my yard like some of my neighbors **.  That said, I’m not afraid to say that I feel lucky to live where I live.  I read a lot of environmental and human rights news and, frankly, so many people have it way worse than us.  We have our faults, that’s for sure, but at least most of us are relatively comfortable and, well, safe!  It’s a shame that we have corporations who exploit developing nations and our own environment, and it’s a shame that some of our ancestors did unspeakable things to the indigenous people who lived here first, but there’s also a lot of good in America and I can think of that and celebrate it today.

Just as in my ritual, let me post it to my blog:

Hail to the spirits of America!
Hail to its Nature Spirits!  Hail to the high-flying, majestic bald eagle!  Hail to the forest turkey!  Hail to the river otters, moose, white tailed deer, squirrels, chipmunks, black bears, mountain lions, wolves, and bobcats!  Hail to the kangaroo rats, the coyotes, the scorpions, and roadrunners.  Hail to the great blue herons, the salmon, the monarch butterflies, the black widow spiders, and the alligators.  Hail to the sea turtles, the dolphins, the tuna, and the pelicans.  Hail to the ants, the bees, and the bats!  Hail to the unseen spirits who were here first and who came over with our ancestors!  Hail to you all and may we live in better harmony with you!

Hail to America’s ancestors!  Hail to the Native American ancestors!  May we grow in friendship.  Hail to our immigrant ancestors!  May we remember where we came from.  Hail to the friends and family we knew in America, and hail to those who fought for our country – especially those whose intentions  and actions were honorable.  May we learn from your triumphs and mistakes.

Hail to the Gods of America!  Hail to the Gods of the Native Americans, and hail to the Gods of our ancestors!  Hail to Lady Liberty!  May we bring honor to you in all we say and do.

May we admit to our faults and work to improve them.  May we help the less fortunate, and welcome them to our country.  May we celebrate our diversity and learn to live together in peace.  May we develop better technologies so that we can live in harmony with nature.

So be it!

* As you may recall, I’ve been doing one formal ADF ritual a week.  I was cutting it close by leaving it until today, but I made it!

** Ahh…military towns…

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

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Visiting for Easter

My parents want to visit next weekend!  I’m very happy and excited to see them, but the situation makes me laugh.  They were talking about going out to eat somewhere but I suggested making dinner.

“But it’s Easter!  We don’t want you to have to work.”

Oh, my silly if well-meaning parents.  I explained, for the millionth time, that I don’t celebrate Easter and that I wouldn’t mind making them a nice dinner so that they don’t have to work or spend lots of money on their special holiday.  They deserve it and I’ve been meaning to make them a nice dinner since moving up here!  We have a Cracker Barrel in Watertown and, ever since discovering it, my mum has been addicted to visiting us and going there for dinner.

As some of you know I’ve recently given up dairy, making me an ovo vegetarian.  I’m trying to eat more local when it’s available, so I’m only eating eggs from local farmers I trust.  In other words, when eating out, I’ll be a vegan.  My mother is concerned I won’t get enough protein so I’m excited to show her what I can do.  My father is surprisingly more supportive.  Although not a vegetarian, he’s been trying to give up/limit his dairy for various reasons.

One of my new favorite things to make is shepherds pie.  I make it just about every week using a haul of root veggies from Doxtater’s Farners Market and a mix of peas, mushrooms and, occasionally, tofu.  Recently I’ve been favoring the mushrooms in this recipe.  I think that will be the main dish, along with some homemade bread and some sort of green.  Maybe a few deviled eggs to celebrate the spring.  I’m not sure about dessert yet…  I have some frozen strawberries so maybe I could do something with them.  Hmmm…maybe pound cake with strawberries?

Where would we be without our freezers?  Seriously, I feel so dependent on that and my refrigerator.  This summer, I really want to do more canning and, maybe, get a dehydrator.  My soon-to-be brother-in-law has one and it works amazingly well.  When I think about how my ancestors kept their food, it’s really amazing to me, and I can understand why spring and summer were so celebrated.

So what about you, dear readers?  Do you have Christian family members celebrating Easter?  Are they including you in their celebration?

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When I was a jaded high schooler, newly converted from Catholicism to “Wicca,”*  I didn’t have a good understanding of ancient or medieval history.  I knew quite a bit about American history thanks to years and years of emphasis in school, but otherwise…  I knew a bit about feudalism, I knew that the Egyptians were some sort of polytheists who built the pyramids and believed in an afterlife, and I had a vague idea that the Druids were from Ireland.  For years after, even into my earliest Druidic studies, I was convinced that St. Patrick’s Day was a crappy holiday because it celebrated how mean old St. Patrick kicked the Druids (aka The Snakes) out of Ireland.

Fast forward to the last … oh, year and a half.  My interest in Druidism has grown so that it’s an incredibly important part of my life.  I read about it a lot.  Inspired by Celtic Reconstructionist methodologies, I read history book after history book, even the dry ones, to obtain a greater understanding of my ancestors and the culture I feel most inspired by.  It is impossible for me to wag my finger at St. Patrick after reading as much as I have.  I’m not alone in this revelation.  Several Pagan bloggers have been discussing their feelings and understandings of the holiday.  To make a long story short, St. Patrick has been framed.  He’s a scapegoat among the Pagan community – a largely innocent Christian victim to our community’s “Waaaa, you stole my toy!” attitude.**

In other words, I have less of a “bah humbug” attitude about St. Patrick’s Day.  A couple years ago, a friend of mine (I swear, I think it was one of my sister-in-laws), who is neither Pagan nor Christian, told me that she prefers to celebrate St. Patrick’s day in the spirit of her Irish ancestry.  I’ve come to feel similarly, especially when considering what my immigrant ancestors went through.  I come from a proud, strong, spiritual, creative, and tenacious people.  I am honored to have Irish blood flowing through my veins.

That said, St. Patrick’s Day cannot escape my criticism entirely.  Although I don’t get very “into” St. Patrick’s Day,***  I’m not against celebrating my culture.  I also recognize that many minority groups join in because the Irish are, more or less, a success story in America.  Although they were persecuted and abused, they climbed the social ladder and many of us are successful and happy today thanks to their efforts****.  However, the celebration is just way, way too commercial.  There are too many crappy, plastic trinkets that end up in garbage limbo, too many styrofoam shamrocks, too many greasy attempts at Irish food, and too much ignorant debauchery.  I use such language because it’s true!  I love a good drink and a reason to party, but on St. Patrick’s Day, at least I know what the hell I’m celebrating.  It’s unfortunate how many Irish wannabes and, even worse, Irish descendants haven’t a clue what their ancestors went through.  Worse yet, most don’t care.  They just like the excuse to drink.  The only reason St. Patrick’s Day continues to thrive is, in my opinion, because of its association to booze.  Why do you think St. Joseph’s Day isn’t a big deal in the States?  Why is Cinco de Mayo a hit  but Chinese New Year isn’t?  It’s the booze.  The ignorant masses just want to drink.  Any excuse.  If you asked them what they were celebrating and why, I bet they wouldn’t be able to explain.  Bah humbug to that!

So roll on my Irish loving friends!  Have a fun (responsible) time but remember what the day is about.  Sláinte!

*I put Wicca in quotations because I’m coming to the conclusion that, while I read about it and attempted to practice Wiccan liturgy, I wasn’t really a Wiccan.  This has nothing to do with initiation or anything.  I simply wasn’t living a Wiccan life.  I called myself one, but I was more akin to a Catholic who rarely prays and only goes to church on Easter.  I should expand on this in a future entry…

**It’s obviously more complicated than this.  There are other stories the Patrick myth has grown out of, and people do love to perpetuate falsities or hyperboles.

*** It’s still a Catholic holiday and has a history of solemnity in Ireland.  I’m not Catholic, don’t care to celebrate the St. much, and prefer to let Catholics do their thing in peace.

**** Before anyone points this out, yes I’m aware this was facilitated by skin color.

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The “writer’s block” topic on Live Journal today is about Valentine’s Day and I decided to add my two cents.

Given that we’re less than a week out from Valentines, how do you feel about the approaching holiday? Will you participate or abstain? If you’re not in a relationship, how will you celebrate your single status?

You know… I just don’t do V-day anymore. It used to be a big deal to me, in part because a majority of my life was spent in public education where, every year, we spent tons of money on candy and crappy, mass-produced cards that my classmates inevitably threw away shortly after receiving. As someone trying to live a more sustainable life, I can’t help but see this highly commercialized holiday as environmentally disgusting. Ok, I’ll admit a detail about my personal life – I work with children. Despite my feelings, I don’t want to disappoint their wee little hearts. Try to discuss sustainability with an X-Box and toy-obsessed youngster. I dare you. 9 times out of 10, it doesn’t change much because, in the end, it’s really the attitude of the parents that matter. All the same, I’m not giving cards or plastic bags of candy. They are getting pencils bedecked in hearts because they are useful. Yes, I am that sort of adult.

“But Grey Catsidhe! You’re newly married! Aren’t you going to have a romantic evening with your hubby?”

Our first date several years ago was on Valentine’s Day. A year after that, we started to think about why we were celebrating. We knew we loved each other. But…was that really a good reason to go out and spend money? Especially after the winter holiday season? We were in college and we were broke. When we really thought about it, we realized that Valentine’s Day just didn’t matter to us. If we were going to spend money on gifts, then let that be on our birthdays and the Solstice. Otherwise… Neither of us are Catholic so St. Valentine doesn’t matter to us. I’m a Celtic Recon/Druid, so Lupercalia isn’t for me either. And I’m no longer a fan of celebrating religious holidays claimed by secular America just because it’s socially traditional. Bah. I’ll stick to traditions that I actually find enjoyable!

If you celebrate Valentine’s Day, that’s fine. Go out and have fun! Maybe even take some advice and see how sustainable you can be while you celebrate. My husband and I? We’ll use a holiday as an excuse to get jiggy with it on the 1st of May. Beltaine baby! Sex in the forest! Show the plants how it’s done! February is too cold for that anyway… So why even bother? 😉

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