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Posts Tagged ‘ancestors’

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I tweeted this a few weeks ago, but I really should share it here, too! I’m proud to post that my short story, “Lemon Balm Tea,” is going to be published in issue 1 of the new eZine Stone, Root, and Bone!

Shannon has struggled with public speaking since she was a girl in school. Poised to give an important presentation as an adult, she reflects on the lessons she learned in her grandmother’s garden.

It’s a contemporary realistic fiction piece, and I hope you enjoy it. I love stories about actual Pagans, polytheists, and animists. Sure, I enjoy the Hollywood interpretations, but I find myself most drawn to writing about who we really are and how we interact with the world around us.

In addition to my story, you’ll find other pieces (including non-fiction!) from fantastic authors. Just check out the headlines on the cover reveal! Intrigued? You can pre-order a copy for $5 here and support an indie publication made by and for polytheists.

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Newly cut roses for Airmed. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2019.

Summer is here, and that means I’m in and out of my garden multiple times a day. Gardens take work, but it’s a relaxing, uplifting labor or love. I often find myself lost in contemplation. I thought about how it’s a perfect metaphor for my religion, but then I realized that it is my religion. Although my Druidry is culturally focused on Irish traditions, it always comes back to the land I live on.

In Druidry, we honor the Ancestors. Most of my ancestors lived in Europe, with a great many coming from the northern parts – Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, and Norway. I think of how they interacted with the land (without romanticizing it). I study the plants they worked with, their land-based symbolism, their agricultural cycles, and how they interacted with land spirits. Some of my ancestors moved to the United States to seek new opportunities. I know that some came here to farm, to brew, and cook. I delight in learning how they did things and adapted to North America. I look to the ancestors of this land I now live on. I try to learn about and respect how the indigenous cultures live and work with the land. I try to learn about the spirits in their traditions so I don’t insult them. I strive to honor them in my own way with acknowledgement and my efforts to restore native species of plants to my yard. I try to keep abreast of issues that are important to the tribes who live in Upstate NY. It’s a never-ending effort of respect for the land and the people who lived here first.

In Druidry, we honor the Deities. I honor the Tuath Dé Danann, with emphasis on Brigid, but also a lot of work with Airmed, An Cailleach, An Dagda, Angus, Lugh, An Morrígan,  and Manannán mac Lir. They are mostly deities of cultural elements, but they also have strong land associations. Many have lore-based connections to plants or animals. Their sacred spaces are based in the land, sea, and sky of Ireland and surrounding countries. How can I connect with them in Upstate NY? The Celts migrated in the past, so I believe I can connect to the deities just as they did*. One way is by respectfully creating shrines on the land where I live. One of my favorite, most meaningful offerings are the plants I grow.

That brings me to the third arm of Druidry – honoring the land spirits. I’m mostly focused on the actual spirits of this place – seen and unseen. When it comes to the unseen, I’m specifically referring to the spirit of the soil, the trees, the overall forest here, etc. Not really the Good Folk, but that is a big gray area (see link below)**. When I interact with the tools and ingredients my ancestors knew and loved, I also interact with the land. I must consider what is and isn’t invasive and damaging to this land. When I visit cemeteries to honor the dead, I also honor the land they are becoming. As I grow food for my family, I know that I will go into the soil and contribute to the cycle one day. When I erect shrines for the deities, I work with the land. When I create spiritual tools, I strive to respectfully wildcraft what I can, and then use materials ethically obtained. I avoid working with certain objects due to mining, over harvesting, etc. When I lead rituals with my grove, we are interacting with an older cultural tradition, but also integrating it with the rhythms of this land.

It all comes back to the land. Gardening, and the many other ways I work to live in better harmony with the earth, is me living my Druidry. As we move into more challenging, uncertain times, I pray that my relationship improves and helps me and my family adapt.

 

*The topic of immigrants interacting with deities from another land is a huge topic best for another post.

** Are land spirits and fairies the same thing? Here’s a great discussion on that huge topic.

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I’ve talked about my feelings about St. Patrick’s Day in the past, as well as my reasons for celebrating it as Irish Heritage Day instead. I’ve also shared, and will share again, Morgan Daimler’s excellent post on what we do know about St. Patrick, his history, snakes, etc. Each year, I continue to see the same inaccurate histories repeated about Ireland, St. Patrick, Druids, etc. Some people, apparently, even refuse to attend Irish Heritage festivals because of it! My goodness. So, instead of wasting energy gnashing your teeth about bunk history, here are some ways to celebrate Irish Heritage Day that will promote actual Irish history and cultural preservation. Before I begin, I want to remind everyone that I’m an American polytheist and a descendant of Irish immigrants. I will never attempt to represent people who actually live in Ireland, speak Irish, etc. I’m working hard to learn the old ways from Irish sources, so this is important to me, and I gather it’s important to many Irish pagans as well.

  1. Attend an Irish Heritage festival! Yes! Go! Listen to traditional music, watch or even partake in step dancing, and rub elbows with others who are proud of, or curious about, their heritage. (Just, you know… try not to get distracted by the plastic Paddy nonsense. It misrepresents Irish culture, and a lot of it is bad for the environment anyway. Also, try to avoid perpetuating drunken stereotypes.)
  2. If you can’t attend a festival, do listen to traditional music. There is plenty to stream online. And if you ever get the chance, buy CDs from bands who are keeping the old music alive and well. Play them for your families and at your gatherings. With time, you and your loved ones will learn to sing along. Perhaps it will inspire instrumental or dance lessons!
  3. Read a book about Irish history. Not modern Pagan practice. History. Learn about ancient history, yes, but also read about modern history. I’m no expert. It’s a work in progress, but we should not embrace Irish lore, symbolism, etc without grasping the fact that the Irish culture is still alive! Learn about what makes them who they are today so that you can inform your practice from a place of integrity and respect. If sitting down to read a book is not your thing, there are many podcasts dedicated to Irish history.
  4. Read or listen to Irish lore. Check out Lora O’Brien’s “Learn the Lore” challenge on Irish Pagan School. I can’t say enough about it! I’m so grateful that she is sharing and making so much available to people all over the world.
  5. Speaking of Lora O’Brien, she posted this to her FB in 2017:
    If you want to celebrate your Irish heritage today, please educate yourself. What can you learn about the reality of Ireland today?

    Try the Magdalene Laundries. Mother and Baby ‘Homes’ all over the country, and nearly 800 dead bodies in Tuam. The 8th Amendment. The Black and Tans. Treatment of political prisoners in the North. The Hunger Strikes. The Irish homeless crisis. Mental health crisis. There’s more, but…

    Instead of spending your cash and time drinking and ‘celebrating’ today, could ya donate that cash to Irish activist causes, and use that time to learn some real history.

    Happy Paddy’s Day.

    If you are able, research some of those causes, or others, and donate. I’m currently exploring some of the environmental organizations in Ireland. When I was blessed with the ability to visit in 2011, my favorite memories are of the time I spent along the River Boyne. It was gorgeous, and I long to go back and explore more of the natural wonders in Ireland. Since it inspired and moved me, perhaps that is a cause worthy of donation. What moves you?

  6. Cook an authentic Irish dish. I really enjoy exploring recipes from “Irish Traditional Cooking” by Darina Allen. I do have to alter things a bit to make them vegetarian, but I really appreciate all the extra information about the recipes and their cultural context, including how some things used to be made. Even while I don’t use meat, I think it’s important to understand traditional ingredients and why they were used.

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    I made (vegan) white soda bread today using a recipe from the book I linked and a basic, homemade vegan “buttermilk.” I think I used too much flour when I flattened it out… But I made it! I’ll offer some to my ancestors and the Good Folk. Photo by Grey Catsidhe (2019).

  7. Study the Irish language! I try to do a lesson each night using Duolingo. Like other Celtic languages, Irish (Gaeilge) needs to be preserved. Studying the language has helped me better understand how to pronounce important names, locations, and concepts within my religious practice, and it’s deepened my connection to my ancestors. Think of every lesson as an offering.
  8. Share stories with the young people in your life. Whether it’s fairy lore, mythology, tales of Ireland’s heroes (legendary or historic), or your own ancestral immigration stories, tell them to the children. As I cleaned my ancestral shrine today, I showed my daughter one of the few photos I have of my great, great, great grandmother, Mary, from County Mayo. It’s a treasure, given to me from my grandfather shortly before he passed away. My daughter was very interested, which made me so happy.

I hope you take time today to have fun, yes, but also be respectful, learn something, and promote the preservation of actual Irish history, lore, and culture.

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After many months of admiring from afar, I finally signed up with author Lora O’Brien’s Irish Pagan School. Another polytheist I admire, Morgan Daimler, recommended Lora awhile back, and I’ve been eyeing her website with interest ever since. I’m trying one of the free courses, Learn the Lore, first. They are short, based around 10ish minute readings with videos. Very manageable, especially for someone like me who is trying to revive my academic side of Druidry. I’ve kept my daily devotionals, but I really want to keep learning and reflecting. Hopefully this can yank me from my doldrums.

I’m going to try and put my reflections on here as a way to hold myself accountable, and to start blogging more regularly.

Yesterday, I read and listened to the first half of Echtra Condla. It’s a story I had read before, in one of the anthologies I possess, but hadn’t really thought much about. First of all, I love listening to Lora read. I am grateful to listen to an Irish person tell the stories, and to hear how the names are pronounced.

I was tasked to reflect on my thoughts in regards to the native, Irish lore and the Christian influence on them. Do I read the mythology specifically for the Pagan elements? Do I look for Christian allegory? Does the latter bother me? Etc.

I’m comfortable reading lore and knowing that there is a Christian layer. It would be wonderful if we had unadulterated, native Irish mythology, of course, but I’m glad to have what we have. It creates an interesting puzzle. I may not catch all the Christian influence, but I feel that the Pagan elements are so strong that to simply dismiss tales like Echtra Condla would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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My dairy-free crepes turned out well! I didn’t have any lemon to squeeze over them, but I prefer powdered sugar anyway. Photo by Grey Catsidhe

I’ve also found that I appreciate knowing what my more recent Irish ancestors did and believed, too. Learning their beliefs is just as important when it comes to honoring my ancestors. It seemed like no coincidence that I started this on Pancake Day. While I’m not Catholic anymore, I decided to make some thin, crepe-style pancakes to honor my ancestral traditions. (I tried a dairy-free recipe, and they turned out really well!)

I’m looking forward to day two!

 

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It’s interesting to look back to last summer. At this time, we were preparing to make an offer on our home. We were heading into new territory and some of the worst stress I remember experiencing. It was a lesson on patience and austerity, that’s for sure, but it was worth it. Here we are, a year later, transforming our yard into beautiful gardens, shrines, and pollinator habitats. (And a few play areas for the little one!) Last summer was all boxes and uncertainty. This summer, as I stand on my porch to gaze at the small batch of abundance I’ve been cultivating, I feel a sense of peace. I feel that I’m  rediscovering my niche after a long period of stress and flailing.

My nasturtiums are very happy in their herb spiral garden home.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018.

Having the freedom to garden as I desire has been wonderful. Even when I returned home from work riddled with stress and fatigue, a little time in the garden always restored my connection to the Kindred and my own sense of self. Working to form a lasting relationship with this new land has been rejuvenating. It’s reawakened my love of herbalism, and I’m throwing myself back into my casual studies with gusto!  Just a couple months ago, it seemed summer was a distant dream.

I inherited my late grandfather’s map of Ireland and related books.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018.

I’m looking forward to furthering my Druid studies this summer. When I visited my family in the Utica area, these heirlooms from my late grandfather seemed to further point me toward that. He worked tirelessly on my family’s genealogy, something I didn’t appreciate until I was older and started to honor my ancestors. My sister told me she felt my taking these would make him happy, and as I walked around the hallow home where he lived and died, I spoke to him of my intentions, and I got a strong sense of approval.

In addition to the map and books, I also picked up some old artwork for my home, and was given permission to transplant some plants in my garden. I brought some of my grandmother’s lily of the valley for the shade garden, and some comfrey for my herb garden. The lilies seem to be taking well. The comfrey looks a tad wilted with the stress of the move. I’ve not lost hope, though. I’ve read they are quite prolific, and even a little section of root can grow. This particular plant is one of the first that my grandmother, an herbal enthusiast herself, taught me about, so if I can establish a patch from her own garden, it would be very meaningful to me.

Burning grove offerings in my backyard fire pit.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018.

Speaking of Druid studies, my grove is growing strong! My friend and grovie, Cassandra, lead our Summer Solstice ritual. We honored Manannan, and asked him to help us as we reestablished our open doors to communities who need safe places, such as the LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities. It was a moving ceremony, but also one with much joy and laughter. Some of our members identify as part of the former community, including one of our elders who proudly told us about some of the first Gay Pride marches he attended.

It was a rainy day, so we held the ritual indoors. I brought many offerings meant for the fire to my home, and I made sure they got to their intended destination last night under the light of a waxing moon. I poured a libation to Brighd to help me with the work – the work of a Senior Druid. Hearing the way Northern Rivers Grove has positively impacted people gives me so much hope. I’m working to improve my practice so that I can serve my community.

As I reflect on where I was at this time last year, I feel excited for the relative peace this summer promises.  I will continue to work with my new plant allies and the land spirits.  I will throw myself further into my Initiate Studies with ADF.  Right now, I’m working on Trance 1 and Divination 2, but I know I will have to augment some of the previously completed courses as the whole study program is undergoing change.  It’s all good, though.  It will all help me become a better Druid and a better person in general!

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I accomplished quite a bit in the yard today. I came in covered in soil, exhausted, but I feel amazing. There’s still much to be done, but we’re transforming the yard one plant at a time! My husband and I have a vision. It will take years, but it’s part of establishing a relationship with the land, and working with the local spirits to create a magical sanctuary.

I finally started a project I’ve been fantasizing about for years – a spiral herb garden!  My dad helped me till the soil, but I spent a bulk of the afternoon and evening hauling rocks, building a mound, and starting a spiral.  I need more stones, but the basic outline is there.  Hoping to put some herbs in this weekend.  This is woo for many people, but I actually used my pendulum to help me figure out where to start the spiral.  When I got out my compass to figure out where the starting point was oriented, I confirmed it was exactly west.   Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018

The pollinator garden is taking shape.  The border is temporary (made out of panels from an old planter that bit the dust after moving).  Some native plants now have a home here – bee balm, purple and yellow cone flowers, and lavender hyssop.  It’s a start!  Dad tilled this as well, and we found some really interesting things… Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018.

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We suspect the corner was an old trash heap.  Our home was built in the late 1800s, after all.  We’ve found various old things in the back – doll arms, parts of tools, broken jars, and these aged gardening shears.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018.

Around the side of the house, my dad found this old compact with his metal detector.  He cleaned it up until it shines.  Such a pretty piece! There’s the remains of an old powder puff inside, but it’s mostly decomposed. Not sure why it was buried where it was…  I plan to do some spiritual investigating, for sure.  I feel like I have the start of a museum.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018

In other fun news, I found wild violets and lily of the valley growing in the shaded part of the yard!  I’m thrilled as these are plants I’ve wanted to work with for years!  Finding these after doing so much work today felt like a positive omen from the local spirits.  

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Cemeteries

I took a walk to the cemetery to watch the mist roll over the headstones. I can’t help but imagine spirits migrating over the land when watching it.

Earlier, I told another Druid that cemeteries inspire me. They’ve been part of my life since childhood as I grew up with two down my road. One accompanied an old, abandoned church. The other is strictly for departed pets. I liked walking to them and through them. As a teenager, I took my boyfriends to them to kiss in the shadows. The dead didn’t mind, though the pet cemetery has since cut down the bushes that offered some privacy.

Now I have a large cemetery behind my home. The dad don’t bother me, though I saw some curious spirits peeking at me when we first moved in. I often go up to say hello.

Time takes on a new meaning where the dead repose. Everyday stress melts like ice soaking into Victorian era graves and oaken roots.

Life goes on. Enjoy it. Find joy even amidst the decay.

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