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Brighid: My Muse

By Grey Catsidhe

6/24/10

 

Ever since I felt myself welcomed at the hearth fires of the Tuatha Dé Danann, one Goddess has stood out as a kind of mother figure and muse to my heart – Brighid.  She was a popular Goddess in the past and remains so in the present.  This should hardly be surprising as she presides over a plethora of important activities including the arts.  For this reason, she is the perfect muse as I explore the path of the artist.

Many Celtic tribes honored Brighid (also known as Brigit, Brigid, Brig, Brigantia, and other names).  She was so beloved that she was Christianized in the form of St. Brigit who presided over the abbey in Kildare (Cill Dara) where her sacred fires burn in her memory (Duinn 16).  The Goddess and saint also share a feast day, Imbolc, which falls on February 1st and is a celebration of fertility as demonstrated by the agricultural rituals that take place then (19-30).  She was equated to the Roman Goddess Minerva by Caesar, and was worshiped by poets, metal smiths, and musicians (Markale 275).  Furthermore, she is considered a patroness of healing, arts and crafts in general, and even divination (Ellis 103).

I used to be a bit confused by her strong presence in my life.  There is such emphasis on her blacksmithing skills.  I am a seamstress and fiber artist by nature.  Was Brighid really a good muse for me, or was I trying too hard to make her a Goddess of all arts and crafts?  My research concludes that Brighid is indeed a patroness of many arts, including fiber arts.

In some parts of Ireland, people claimed that, traditionally, one was not supposed to perform any work involving a wheel on Imbolc.  The household spinning wheel was dismantled and put away on the eve of the celebration.  In fact, one man, Seán Segersiúin from Killarney, claims that people believed Brighid had first taught women the art of turning wool into clothing (Duinn 177).  This belief is backed up by the folk tradition of girls making miniature spinning wheels out of reeds to help men divine their future brides on Imbolc – Brighid’s holy day (194).  Furthermore, there is evidence that Imbolc, “was celebrated when the first sign of milk was observed in the ewes, and the newborn lambs, harbingers of spring, were ready to suckle” (Ellison 113).  This connection to sheep, in my opinion, solidifies Brighid’s place as a patroness of spinning, dying, weaving, knitting, crocheting, and, ultimately, sewing. Caesar’s comparison of Brighid to Minerva, a Roman Goddess known for weaving, provides further evidence for the argument.  Additionally, when considering the other “womanly” chores Brighid is associated with, including presiding over childbirth (Sjoestedt 25), it makes sense to include what are traditionally considered as “feminine arts” to be within her influence.

Fabric in general plays an important role in Brighid’s rites.  It was believed that Brighid would visit households on or around Imbolc.  Families often left fabric outside which they believed would be blessed by Brighid’s otherworldly powers.  The brat Bhríde (Bride’s mantle), as it was called, then acted as a charm of protection or as a treatment for illness (Duinn 26).  Instead of putting out a large piece of cloth, some people left ribbons or handkerchiefs outside for similar blessings (35).  Brighid played such an important role in the health and prosperity of the people.  It is understandable why fabric would take a large role in her rites as well.  Fabric warms people and helps keep them comforted during the coldest parts of the year.   As Brighid is already associated with health and warmth, fabric becomes an extension of those qualities.

There are other crafts associated with Brighid as well.  The weaving of Brighid crosses is a well-known tradition that is still observed in parts of Ireland.  It was believed that they helped to protect a home from storms and terrible winds (Duinn 108) and I have met many present day Pagans who insist they are charms against house fires.  Historically, the crosses were also helpful in crop and dairy fertility (128-129).   Crosses are not the only traditional Imbolc craft.   In many villages, “girls of the townland fashion[ed] a sheaf of corn into the likeness of a woman. They dress[ed] and deck[ed] the figure with shining shells, sparkling crystals, primroses, snowdrops, and any greenery they may [have] obtain[ed]” (Carmichael 166).  Clearly, one of the best ways to honor this Goddess is through creating art.

As stated, I am a fiber artist.  I have practiced such crafts as sewing, knitting, crocheting, and weaving since I was very little.  They are an important part of my life and my religious expression.  Discovering the influence Brighid has over fabric made a lot of sense to me.  I was no longer confused as to why she continually whispered inspirations into my ear or why she seemed to smile at me from beyond the veil as I toiled away at my sewing machine.  I now truly believe that Brighid’s talents are so varied that any artists can seek her aid and inspiration so long as they honor her in their work.

When Brighid’s influence in my life first became apparent, I was not sure how to thank her.  I said a word or two to her in my daily devotionals, but it somehow didn’t seem like enough.  As she is multi-talented, I felt her even when I wasn’t crafting.  I felt the need to honor her exclusively at certain times.  Luckily, I wasn’t alone in this calling.  Other Druids in ADF called out for a flame keeping SIG.  Through its formation, we devotees of Brighid follow in the steps of our predecessors from Kildare and light a flame in her name on certain nights each month.  This was a powerful way to grow closer to my muse and inspired me to go a step further.

I firmly believe that Brighid somehow influences every creative idea I have.  I feel that she is a spirit of inspiration and that she provides me with topics to explore.  I then add my own ideas to them and seek her guidance throughout the process.  When I am in the midst of art, I feel as if I am having a conversation with my Goddess.  I felt that, due to such collaboration, she deserved more than what I was giving her.  After all, crafting is one of my greatest sources of happiness!  Such a blessing should be celebrated tenfold!

Based on my flame keeping practices, I developed a short ritual that I perform when involved in my creativity.  I usually light a candle when keeping Brighid’s flame.  To thank her for the imbas, the divine inspiration in my head, I usually light her a stick of incense.  I say words of thanks and ask that I bring her honor “in all I say and do.”

Brighid is a Goddess with many talents.  Her influence is vast and my UPG tells me that she is willing to work with anyone as long as they honor her for her blessings.  Brighid is my muse and I will strive to learn more about her and admire her as I explore the ways of the Druid artisan.

 

 

Works Cited

Carmichael, Alexander.  Carmina Gadelica.  1900.  Sacred Texts. .   4 June 2010.

<http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cg1/index.htm&gt;

Ellis, Peter Berresford.  A Brief History of the Druids.  New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002.

Ellison, Rev. Robert Lee (Skip).  The Solitary Druid.  New York: Kensington

Publishing Corp., 2005.

Markale, Jean.  The Celts Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western

Culture.  Trans. C. Hauch.  Rochester: Inner Traditions International, 1978

Ó Duinn, Seán.  The Rites of Brigid Goddess and Saint. Dublin: Columba Press, 2005.

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise.  Celtic Godsand Heroes.  Mineola: Dover Publications Inc.,

2000.

 

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As part of the Art Guild study program requirements, I am to choose two mediums to focus on.  It was suggested they should force me to focus on different dimensions, brain power, and physical movements.  Choosing a first medium was effortless.  Deciding on a second was a little more challenging, but I think I have found something that will prove helpful and complimentary to my studies.

I’ve been sewing since I was four or five. When I was younger it was my mother who first taught me how to thread a needle and do a basic stitch.  I made a pillow and, quite ambitiously, declared that we should call the local museum and ask about submitting it for their exhibit.  I still have the ratty pillow as a reminder of how proud sewing has always made me, and how a simple craft can inspire me to reach for the stars.  As I’ve grown, I’ve explored other fiber arts such as knitting, crochet, and embroidery.  Textiles is my medium of choice and I’m filled with such joy and purpose whenever I’m engaged in it.  Of course there are frustrating moments – jammed bobbins, uneven seams, knots, misread patterns – but the end product and the feeling of having created something beautiful, unique, and, possibly, useful is so fulfilling.  I am excited that the Artisan Guild study program exists as it gives me an excuse to further explore my favorite craft and how it can become a greater expression of my spirituality.

Choosing a second medium to focus on in the art guild has been a challenge.  There are many arts I would love to learn about  – many of which would compliment my sewing.  At first I thought about sculpting, an art I’ve had experience in and would like to pursue once more.  Jewelry making was also something I considered.  Each would help me create more involved dolls and costume accessories.  When I discussed this with a fellow artist and ADF member, she suggested to me that, although they would be helpful to my sewing, they were three-dimensional mediums and that I am already engaged in such a process when creating dolls and clothing.  I am basically sculpting with fabric when I create my dolls or costumes.

Thinking along these lines, I decided to revisit drawing.  I studied art all through public school and even took a drawing class in college.  Although never a blue ribbon artist, I did develop an understanding and enjoyment for drawing.  I’m proud of some of the pieces I completed.

Although sculpting and jewelry making are obvious compliments to doll making and costuming, drawing will be just as helpful.  Having focused more on textiles than anything else, the drawing skills that were so practiced in high school have suffered.  I would like to practice more so as to be better able to sketch designs for dolls and costumes.  Learning more about perspective and proportions will help me perfect my understanding of anatomy – an important aspect of dolls and costume design!

 

Will you be able to take classes at a local art center?

 

Although I’ve had several years of experience, I realize that I have much to learn and that I have many areas to improve upon.  I was lucky to have both a mother and a father who sewed.  I learned a lot from them and a few other family members.  As I grew I started looking at books for further inspiration and technique.  In college I was blessed to meet a fellow sewing enthusiast who shared some of her own tricks with me.  Now I’m an adult, moved away from home, and living in a new town in Northern NY, far from my old teachers and peers.  I am left on my own with my books, websites, and how-to internet videos.   That said, I’ve recently learned about the Thousand Island Arts Center and it seems like just what the proverbial doctor ordered. Although their website is being reconfigured and their classes have yet to be updated, last year there were courses on weaving, spinning, quilt making, pattern drafting, and all manner of traditional arts. Quilting, weaving, and spinning are skills I would love to learn about, and taking any classes would undoubtedly provide me with an opportunity to perfect my skills under master teachers.

As stated, I’ve already taken plenty of drawing classes throughout my educational history. I’m definitely not close-minded to taking more!  Should I see a class that focuses on a skill I feel lacking in, I would be inclined to take it.  I believe I already have an understanding for the basics that most introductory classes present, and that I would most benefit from workshops focusing on a certain area such as portraits, figure drawing, or landscaping.  I would also like to learn how to better use the materials.  As with sewing, the Thousand Island Arts Center has offered pertinent classes in the past and I look forward to seeing their updated calendar for possible consideration.


Will you need to use well-illustrated how-to books and the rigorous school of trial and error?

 

I’m hopeful that the art center will update its website and class information soon.  In the meantime I have to rely on tutorials, trial and error, and my own tenacious creativity. It’s part of the game, I suppose. Luckily I already have some wonderful books that can help me with the more technical annoyances of sewing such as the Signer Sewing Book by Jessie Hutton and Gladys Cunningham.  It’s old but full of useful information.  I would like to find books on spinning and natural dying.

I am definitely opened to using books to better understand certain drawing techniques.  I think well-illustrated books would be especially helpful with anatomy.  Otherwise I will rely on trial and error to perfect my shading, perspective, and other such skills.
How available, affordable and sustainable are the materials you will need?

I already have many tools. My husband recently revived my old sewing machine, and my father fixed another that will arrive at my home sooner or later. I also do a lot of hand stitching lately which is, I’m sure, more sustainable than using electricity.   I have various sized crochet hooks and knitting needles.  I like to buy fabric and thread from garage sales and second hand stores. I also like to recycle clothing and scraps. Unfortunately this doesn’t always meet my needs and I do buy a lot of fabric and other materials from art and craft stores. I try to research sustainable and organic materials but, unfortunately, many of them are a bit too expensive for me at the moment.

 

Some more sustainable and affordable materials have crossed my radar recently. I’ve noticed more felt made of recycled plastic for example. There are also some recycled buttons. I’ve found a few skeins of organic/bamboo yarn.

Luckily, as long as I can find thread and keep my needles straight, I will be able to sew. There are always scraps around.  Plastic bags can be turned into “plarn” for knitting or crochet. I would love to learn how to spin wool and eventually weave my own fabric. In Northern NY, there seem to be plenty of sheep and alpaca farmers with homespun wool for purchasing.

I am lucky to have a couple craft stores in the nearby city of Watertown, NY, one of which has a plethora of drawing materials.  In addition, the city of Syracuse, NY, which is about an hour and a half away from my home, has an amazing art supply store with even more materials.  There are plenty of graphite and charcoal pencils, watercolor pencils, and inks for my use.  The art store in Syracuse has an amazing selection of canvases and specialty paper should I ever feel so inclined.

 

I recently purchased some watercolor pencils and noticed that some brands guarantee that the wood did not come from rain forests.  I favor those brands as deforestation is a very real problem and I want to do all in my power not to contribute to it.  I am not aware of where the pigment comes from, but this is something I would love to learn more about.  I know that some drawing paper is recycled and I would prefer to purchase this should I find it.

 

Is there anyone in your community who can serve as a resource for you?

The Art Center I mentioned before will, I hope, become a resource. There are also bound to be other local artisans I have yet to meet. Within my own tribe there are plenty of crafty, needle-happy people. My friend Parallax is an accomplished seamstress who also has a degree in art. My mother and father are both talented and are my original sewing teachers. My aunt used to make her own clothing. My husband also studied some art in school.  Although he focused on photography, he has a keen eye for detail and notices when things don’t seem quite right.  In addition, my sister, Sara, her fiancé, Trevor, and my grandmother are all artistic.  My sister and her fiancé majored in art and are rarely seen without a sketchpad.  Sara focuses on interior designs and Trevor’s interest is character design.  My grandmother, though mostly a painter, always starts with a sketch.  These people will be the first I turn to for suggestions and help.  If that fails, there is also the internet with its many tutorials and forums.

Are there opportunities to work and learn collectively with other novices?

Should the Art Center offer more classes, then yes.  I also have my eye on local colleges as many have non-credit classes open to the community and there have been quilting or fiber arts classes offered before.

What kind of assistance or advice will you want/need from the Artisan Guild, if any?

I would expect the guild to be a community of learners at various levels of expertise. I would love to bounce ideas off others and receive honest feedback as well as encouragement. I am always open to advice and help.

By Grey Catsidhe 3/22/10

 

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IP Letter of Intent

1)   What draws you to the path of Initiation within ADF?

 

When I stumbled upon ADF it was during a time that I felt I was in a sort of spiritual limbo.  I knew that Paganism was the right place for me but the generality of the term was not enough.  I had left Wicca due to academic dissatisfaction.  After finding ADF, I thought about its message for several months before joining, and even then I waited several more before seriously starting the Dedicant Program.  I didn’t want to jump in – I wanted to wait and make sure that this was right for me.  The more I meditated on it, the more I realized how right it felt.  I recognized a calling from the ancestors and the Old Ones of Ireland.  I began my journey through study and, even before I had finished the Dedicant Program, I knew that I would want more.

Once I completed that first step I took some time off from academics and essay writing to accomplish a few other things in life and to think about what I wanted next in my Druidic studies.  I did not want to jump into anything I wasn’t truly called to.

After a lot of deep thought I came to the conclusion that I should take a serious step towards greater involvement and greater knowledge of the Kindreds.  Although I am a Dedicant I realize that there are many things left to learn.  The Dedicant Program has helped me find a home within ADF and I am beginning to satisfy the academic side of spirituality I so craved.  However that was only the beginning of my journey and I am aware of my weaknesses.  I find myself desirous of improvement, especially in regards to the spiritual side of religion – the mysticism.  I realized that, having dedicated myself to this religion, it is important for me to continue learning, growing, and improving myself.  Druidism has become so important to my life that I want to show my elders and the Kindreds my commitment to its beauty.  I feel that taking the path of initiation will help me to grow, learn, and give back to the Kindreds and my community.

 

2)   What does being an Initiate mean to you?

 

 

Being an Initiate means that I am committed to Druidism and to the Kindreds.  It means that I have a desire to learn more.  It means that I seek inner improvement.   As an Initiate, I would take the lessons I learned and, to the best of my capabilities, give back to others.  This brings me to community.  Taking this step towards greater involvement means that I will grow in intimacy with my spiritual community, especially in fellowship with others who are working to develop a modern, Druidic “current.”

 

3)    What services do you hope to provide to your community with this training?

 

I am hopeful to provide for my community in many ways.  I recently started to become more involved with ADF.  I have submitted a few pieces to Tribeways and am now an editor for Oak Leaves.  It is my hope to contribute more to these valuable publications and I have no doubt that my work in the Initiate Study Program will inspire me to produce essays fit for sharing with others.

In addition to producing more material for ADF, I am interested in taking on more responsibilities within my grove and providing more support for the senior Druid.  When I first began attending Muin Mound I was very quiet.  After awhile, I was invited to participate in ritual in small ways.  When I completed my DP, Skip encouraged me to call to the Gods in ritual.  I felt honored to be asked and, once I had done it, I found myself feeling closer to the Kindreds and to the grove.  I would like to do more and feel that further study would help me.  Practice with trance and meditation would aid me in leading the Two Powers.  Divinatory studies would give me confidence to take omens.  Perhaps one day I will even lead a ritual for the grove.

Finally, I am opening up to the idea of teaching.  Although I know that I will always be a student, I have found a confidence in myself and recognize that I do have knowledge and skills.  As I am a teacher in a public school, teaching is part of my identity.  I enjoy doing it and would be open to helping others complete their Dedicant Programs, and perhaps lead workshops at festivals. Perhaps one day I will even become clergy.  Becoming an initiate would help me refine my studies and skills so that I would be better prepared to help others in these ways.

 

~Grey Catsidhe 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Clifton, Chas S.  Her Hidden Children The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America.  Lanham:

AltaMira Press, 2006.

Many of us come to Paganism with an interest in ancient history.  We wonder who and how our ancestors worshiped and we attempt to follow in their footsteps.  I can speak for myself when I say that when I began studying Wicca in high school I was not interested in Paganism’s modern history until I reached a point in my spiritual journey where I started to wonder why certain things were done.  Her Hidden Children the Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America by Chas S. Clifton attempts to explain the evolution of modern Paganism in ways that are both respectful and honest.

The important thing to remember when studying Paganism is that it is a spiritual path made up of many different religious outlooks.  Not everyone can agree on what Paganism is as a whole and so the movement must be looked at as an organism made up of many smaller cells.  Clifton successfully compares modern Paganism to an island teeming with diversity.  Just as everything is connected and dependent on one another in an ecological biosphere, so too are the modern Pagan movements connected.  Each Pagan path shares certain commonalities, whether it is a group of founders, cultural inspiration, similar ritual patterns, or the similarity of existing outside of the major five world religions.  Clifton’s goal is to examine Pagan literature as he believes that a study of the writing is the only way we have to map the evolution and growth of the movement. It is in this way that he is able to piece together the history of modern American Paganism.

Clifton’s main focus is Wicca.  It cannot be denied that Wicca has played a significant role in popularizing Paganism in general.  Like many forms of Paganism, its history starts outside of America – in Europe – with a man named Gerald Gardner who, by publishing Witchcraft Today, allowed for society to start thinking about Paganism (14).  Since then, numerous authors have written on “the craft” including Raymond Buckland, Doreen Valiente, and Cunningham.  Clifton argues that literature has been paramount to the spread of Wiccan thought and practice (13).  Since so many Wiccans are solitary practitioners, they rely on the written word to teach and learn more often than not. Clifton’s discussion on Wicca’s history is worth reading due to Wicca’s influence on Paganism as a whole.  The elders of the movement, dead and living, possess such interesting characters that one cannot help but admire them for their eccentricity.  Just as interesting is the transformation that Wicca has undertaken from a coven-centered religion to a diverse buffet of traditions with many eclectic solitaries.  The availability of literature has played a significant role in this growth and change, but the increasingly sexy portrayal of witches in the media, as discussed in the chapter “The Playboy and the Witch: Wicca and Popular Culture”, has helped as well.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book takes an in-depth look at Paganism’s relationship with nature.  I read this chapter shortly after taking part in a heated forum discussion on just that topic.  My experience on the Pagan forum was a revelation – not all Pagans identify with the title “nature religion.”  Many felt that their religion did not focus on nature but rather on magic or cultural heritage.  Others, like myself, argued that all of those things were part of nature.  Clifton explores this situation and suggests that there are three categories of “nature religion.”  He calls these “Cosmic Nature,” “Gaian Nature,” and “Erotic” or “Embodied Nature.”  Simply put, Cosmic Nature is concerned with magic and energy, Gaian Nature explores the philosophy of the Earth as a deity, and Erotic Nature involves sexual pleasure.  It is interesting to explore the different approaches to nature taken by other spiritual paths within Paganism, but the inherent message from Clifton is that concept of Paganism being a Nature Religion is  largely an American phenomenon with connections to the growing environmentalist movement (41).  However it must be understood that not all Pagan faiths are concerned with nature in the same way that some Wiccans and Druids are.

The book includes a chapter dedicated to other modern Pagan movements, but the discussion is very limited.  Clifton summarizes such movements as The Church of Aphrodite, Feraferia, The Church of All Worlds, The Council of Themis, and, finally, modern Druidism.  I was surprised that there was not a larger discussion on Reconstructionists (although they received brief mentions scattered throughout the book), Asatru, Modern Shamanism, or Chaos Magic.  Some of these movements, especially Asatru, have become incredibly influential in the Neo-Pagan world.  Clifton’s discussion on Druidism, while very interesting and helpful in understanding the development and inspiration for Ár nDraíocht Féin, seemed to fall short of other Druidic traditions.  The Henge of Keltria is only mentioned, and the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids seems nowhere to be found despite its having American members and an obvious influence on the modern Druidic movement.  If Clifton were to release a later edition, my suggestion to him would be to include a chapter on Druidism as well as a chapter on Astaru and Heathenism.  His chapter on other Pagan paths should be dedicated to the less understood, less discussed paths such as chaos magic and Christian Witches.

Despite the minor quips I’ve expressed, Her Hidden Children was an immensely enjoyable book with a lot of important information.  The writing style was very straightforward and easy to understand.  At times, the book was a page turner simply because of Clifton’s narrative style and the interesting facts he presented.

Her Hidden Children has been helpful in understanding the development of Wicca, Druidism, and Paganism as a whole within the United States.  It does not change my spirituality in any way, but it does make me a wiser, more informed, more tolerant person.  I think that, if Paganism is to remain a strong, growing religion, the diverse paths will have to celebrate their differences while embracing their similarities in order to unite for the common good.  This book serves as an excellent starting point for just that.

 

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