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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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Lughnasadh

As July ends, numerous Pagans are mentally, spiritually, and in some cases physically preparing for Lughnasadh.  On or around August first, many of us stop to remember the bounty of the summer and give thanks.  Some of us stop and remember the holiday’s namesake – Lugh.

Lughnasadh is a feast in honor of Lugh and his foster mother, Tailtiu (Freeman 237).  She cleared forests in what is now County Meath so that the land could be cultivated.  Tailtiu died doing so, thus Lugh promised to honor her memory with a celebration of games and trade (237).  Lughnasadh festivals were therefore characterized by competitive games (Myers 44).  It is also the traditional end of summer and beginning of autumn (Ellison 145) and was thus the festival of the first harvest (148).  At this time of the year, Irish tribes would gather to compete in games, sell their crops, and sell and display their crafts (149).  Lughnasadh is a time of revelry, socialization, and community.  It was important for busy families to take a break from what was otherwise a season of hard work to laugh and enjoy their bounty.

Lughnasadh, while it is a holiday I celebrate, has never been something I look forward to with vast anticipation like Samhain, Yule, or Beltaine.  It is an important day to me, however, and I always put aside time to honor Lugh and his foster mother.  This year I am planning to attend the local Irish and Renaissance Festivals.   In various places, I have read that festivals of their nature are akin to what Lughnasadh festivals would have been like.  I find it as no coincidence that such huge gatherings of trade, athletics, and celebration occur at this time of year.  Attending such things around Lughnasadh has become an annual tradition for me and is likely to continue for the rest of my healthy life.

In the future, I would like for Lughnasadh to become a bigger holiday to me – perhaps one I look forward to with the excitement I associate with Samhain and the like.  If I have a family, I would like Lughnasadh to be a full-day celebration of summer’s end and autumn’s beginning.  I would want us to decorate our family altars and tables with local crops such as beans, summer squash, and blueberries.  I would like us to attend local rituals as well as do something intimate as a family.  I would like us to visit Renaissance or Irish festivals to really feel the community involved in such a feast.

 

How I Celebrated in 2007

The holiday celebrated in this ritual was Lughnasadh.  The ritual was lead by myself and the only other person attending was my boyfriend, Ron.  We performed the ritual in my back yard by the oak tree we planted in April.  It was not so deep into the forest that we would be eaten alive by mosquitoes, and wasn’t close enough to the house to distract us.  We decided to celebrate Lughnasadh on the traditional day of August 1, 2007, a Wednesday, in the evening at about 8 pm.

Ron and I honored the deities Lugh and his foster-mother Tailtiu.  I felt it was right and made sense considering the history and mythology surrounding Lughnasadh.  I called on Manannan Mac Lir as the Gatekeeper.

I felt that the ritual went well for the most part.  I have been studying the structure of ADF rituals for awhile now and felt that I had a handle on what I was doing for the most part.  I had to focus myself before the ritual and organize my thoughts beforehand, so performing these rites is not yet second nature.  I was also a bit nervous because I was performing the rite in front of Ron and, even though he is my understanding boyfriend, I didn’t want to look silly or clumsy in front of him. I’m confident that the more I do them, the more comfortable I’ll feel.

There was one glitch but luckily it happened at the very beginning of the ritual rather than in the midst of it.  I was trying to open a bottle of Guinness to prepare some offerings, and realized that I’d need a bottle opener to do it.  I had to run back to the house to get the utensil before the rite could continue.  It was certainly a lesson well learned!  I was prepared in every other way, so one little set back didn’t hurt too much, I’m sure.

In terms of what I felt, I was pretty nervous about leading the ritual.  I think that muffled any other feelings I would have had.  It also didn’t help that Ron was visibly and audibly uncomfortable with the bugs during the ritual.  I certainly felt the weight of the ceremony, and felt that Lugh was happy with my honoring him, but I didn’t feel the buzz I usually experience at a ritual at the Grove or in my own daily devotionals.  Again, I feel that it will come with practice.  I just need to become more comfortable doing it on my own and in front of others.

I regret to say no omens were taken.  I thought a lot about including that in my rite, as it’s such a traditional part of ADF, and it feels right in terms of what ancient Pagans would have done.  However, in the end, I felt that I was too out of practice with the tarot cards to use them that night.  I know next to nothing about the rune set I own.  It would have been hard to see the results anyway.  We weren’t using a bonfire, but a little candle, after all.  Perhaps down the road at my next ritual.  I would greatly like to learn the ogham.

In many ways, my Lughnasadh ritual was more of a learning experience and less of a spiritual one.  There are ups and downs to that, of course, but in the long run it will serve as an essential stepping stone in my spiritual life.  The more confident I can become performing these rites, the more natural I will feel, and thus the more open to spirit I will be.

 

 

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Samhain Snow

I woke up this morning, opened the bedroom curtains, and beheld my first snow of the year.  You can see it just starting to frost the Earth in the photo below.

I find it appropriate, somehow.  The ancient Celts saw Samhain as the end of the light half of the year – the summer months – and the beginning of the dark half of the year – the winter.  Although Samhain comes with the promise of new life, it is full of death.  The leaves are dying.  The creatures that cannot find shelter, hibernate, or migrate are dying.  Our ancestral spirits wander the Earth.  The pooka is about, waiting for his share of the harvest.  Anything left on the vine tomorrow will be his.  They will assume the shape of death and no longer be good for humans to eat. The snow is the final touch.  To me, it is the Earth Mother snuffing out the flame of summer for good.  It burned brightly this year, but now it is time for the green world excepting (of course, the strong and magical evergreens) to rest until next year.

The wheel of life turns.

My Samhain plans?

I used a rotting pumpkin to create ZOMBIE PUMPKIN!  The nails just make it for me.  🙂
On a more serious note, I moved my altar – including my ancestor shrine.  I hung photos of various ancestors on the wall (Weretoad’s grandfather was wobbly until Weretoad himself fixed the frame).  I included a wall sconce on which I can light candles and leave small offerings.  I would like to make or find a small shelf on which I could place larger offerings.  I will probably move items on my main altar to create a dumb supper for our ancestral spirits tonight.
Last night I attended Muin Mound Grove’s celebration.  We cleaned the nemeton, put our jack-o-lanterns around the hedges, and honored the ancestors, as well as Dagda and the Morigan, through fire, song, libation, and sacrifice.  The omens were good.  They spoke of building community and protection from the spirits.  
Inside we had a wonderful feast of corn and black bean salad, red beans and rice, lasagna, pumpkin bread, cranberry and orange bread, carrots, pumpkin seeds, and apple pie.  A portion of each was given to the ancestors first.  
Blessed Samhain to you and yours!

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

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Busy Busy

Life has been so busy recently.  Since Pagan Pride Day, I feel like my schedule has been full of non-stop action.  Work, two equinox celebrations, Pagan meetings, more work, car hunting, grocery shopping, cleaning, pot lucks, Dungeons and Dragons …  I feel like, even when I have a spare moment, I don’t have the energy for artistry or meditation.  I still do my devotional every evening, though, and that helps keep me connected.  Last weekend saw me at Muin Mound for the Equinox ritual, and that counted as my weekly formal rite.  This weekend I will make time for another on my own and I’m thinking about using it to meditate.  I really need to stop and do nothing  but focus on my breath.

The lack of art depresses me.  I bought some materials to use for wildcrafting and sewing – I just have to have the time and energy.  I’m also trying to decide what I want to do for a Samhain costume.  Muin Mound is having a contest and, while I have no particular need to win, I think it’s a wonderful excuse to make a new outfit.  I’m thinking about being a fairy.  It’s not particularly original, but I want something whimsical and nice enough to wear to work.

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

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Last night, I celebrated the Autumn Equinox with my grove.  I had a lovely time and, as always, am grateful to the grove organizer and his wife for their hospitality.  Every time I go I feel closer to my grovies.    It feels more and more like family.

We started off harvesting some grape vines for wreathes.  This was the first time I ever made a wreath so it was a fun learning experience.  My mum used to make them with vines from our forest; she made it look so easy and, while I suppose it really is, I think I was a bit too anal about it.  The plan is for the wreathes to dry until Imbolc, when we’ll make “wheel of the year” wreathes for our homes.  We must find representations for each high day to attach to our wreath.  As the wheel turns, so will our wreathes so that the top of it will correspond to the high day we celebrate.  I think it’s a lovely idea and can’t wait to finish mine!

I also collected some vine for magical purposes.  Skip and I talked a bit about ogham.  He suggested that I make mine out of disks or else I could subconsciously choose the omen I want based on the feel of individual tree staves.  He gave me a thick piece of vine that I can saw into disks.  Doing this may mean that the energy of the individual trees represented in the ogham wouldn’t be as strong in my set, but using a vine/muin to make them would strengthen my connection to my spiritual family of Muin Mound Grove.  I think it’s fitting.  I can still use the rowan and oak ogham staves I made for charms.  Rowan, or luis, is especially good for protection magic whereas oak, or dair, helps with strength and wisdom.

The business meeting was productive.  I took over the secretarial duties and once more volunteered to help with the website.  This basically means I need to get a web editing tool such as Dreamweaver.  My occupation allows me to get a pretty hefty discount on the software so I wouldn’t really mind.  I think of it as a good investment towards my own websites and as a sacrifice to the grove.  I’m excited to help out and hope I can meet everyone’s expectations.

This ritual was the first since Imbolc that started after the sun set.  The year is growing older and the days have become shorter.  It was chilly and it felt nice to stand around the fire.  The mosquitos were noticeably absent.  The moon smiled down on our rite.

I’m already excited for Samhain!

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

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Yesterday I talked about what the Autumn Equinox means to me.  Now I’m going to share with you some of what I’ve been doing to celebrate it!

I’ve started to collect twigs from specific trees to create small ogham staves.  So far I’ve started luis/rowan and dair/oak.  I’m proud of them so far!  Here they are with some festive mini pumpkin gourds.
Some of the last summer flowers cut, bound, and ready to offer at a gathering I attended last night.  They turned into the table centerpiece!  
My personal altar with an autumn-colored altar cloth and harvest offerings.
Here’s a closeup of the cornhusk doll I made.  She’s probably the third one I’ve ever finished so…  she’s not as impressive as some others out there!  I’m proud of her all the same.  I actually grew the corn that she’s made out of!  Granted, because only two spouted and were grown in containers, they didn’t produce large ears.  Still, I was able to grow my own offering and autumn decor (the stalks have been cut and tied to an iron post outside).  This dolly is going to be part of the main offering at Muin Mound Grove tomorrow.  Everyone was encouraged to make a corn dolly to place in the fire.
More harvest offerings!  Everything except the gourds were from my own garden.  I included the tiny ears of corn.  Behind all the flowers, fruit, and vegetables is a harvest Earth Mother doll I crocheted.  She’s my planned personal offering for the big ritual tomorrow.
I’m looking forward to seeing my grovies tomorrow and celebrating the harvest.  On the actual Equinox I  went to Better Farm for a potluck dinner, casual “ritual,” and bonfire!  What an amazing place!  I met so many wonderful people.  Everyone was so hospitable.  Sharing a meal with local gardeners, artisans, and free-thinkers; listening to a fiddler and guitarist tweak out an acoustic “Knocking on Heaven’s Door;” standing in a candlelit barn; and sitting around a smokey fire while crying “I hate rabbits!” every time the smoke hit my eyes – now that was a great way to spend the Equinox!  

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

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