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Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Ghost Flowers at Otter Creek Preserve.  Once upon a time, I had no idea what these were.  I didn’t merely shrug and forget – I took photos and looked them up after a hike.  Now I can easily identify them.  It’s a great feeling. – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017

I read an article today that captured the spirit and concern of one of my recent posts.  It relates to Britain specifically, but I see a similar disconnect between people and nature in the United States.  It amazes me how many adults (who have lived in Upstate NY all their lives) don’t know the difference between an oak and a maple tree.  These are some of the most common trees around!  Or they can’t name any of the wildflowers that grow near them.

It’s really… strange to me, I guess, but then I think of all the other skills I’m surprised people lack.  Like…hearing that someone intends to throw out a shirt because a button fell off…  Say what?  Reading the article linked above made me realize how lucky I was as a child to learn about the nature around me.  My parents and even grandparents were very involved and passed down their wisdom – the names of plants and animals, how to garden, what not to touch, and even some wild edibles.  I’m always trying to add to that knowledge and pass on more to my own daughter.

There’s definitely some privilege there.  I understand that I was very lucky to have involved parents.  They could afford for my mother to stay home and raise my sister and me.  My father had a good job with benefits so he didn’t need to take any more employment.  My grandparents lived close and were able to retire, giving them plenty of time to teach me and my sibling how to sew, paint fences, weed, press flowers, etc.  Not only did we have access to green space, but we were surrounded by it and actively went on weekend excursions into the Adirondacks to learn more.  We went to the library and museums.  I realize not everyone is able to do those things for a variety of reasons.

I’m thinking about how I can help improve the situation.  Continuing to talk with my daughter about the plants and animals around us is a huge priority to me.  Reading and getting outside as I discussed in that recent post to improve my own understanding, for sure.  Perhaps I should do more with my own grove?  Going on a nature walk together and pooling our collective knowledge would be a great activity.  (Honestly, I want us to get out more together anyway.)  As a teacher, perhaps I should take my students outside.  Perhaps we’ll take advantage of the wooded trail on campus and keep a weekly or even monthly nature journal to improve their writing skills…  Simply getting outside and taking the time to observe can be so powerful*.  There are many possibilities.  Every little bit counts.

What are you doing to improve your connection to nature?  What else could you do to pass on your knowledge to others?

*I once took some little kids out on the playground with magnifying glasses just to observe the insects and spiders.  After calming them, they were entranced by a bumblebee, admitting that they never actually looked at one up close before.  It was one of the most amazing, humbling, and emotional experiences to me as a teacher.

 

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The book on my altar near my Brighid candle and doll.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

This post has been on my to-do list forever.  Those who have followed me for awhile know that I haven’t been updating as regularly.  Blame motherhood.  Thank goodness for spring break!

First, a disclaimer – I did not buy this book.  I won this directly from the author as part of a publication giveaway!  I was very excited because I so rarely win anything, but Brighid has a way of making good things happen in my life.  A Pagan Twitter friend pointed me towards Courtney Weber and I’m so glad she did.  The author is a delightful person full of passion.  She offers several workshops and classes on Brighid as well as tarot.

This is the third book I’ve read specifically focused on Brighid.  I am devoted to her, so I really enjoy delving into such material.  The first was The Rites of Brigid: Goddess and Saint by Sean O Duinn, and the second was Tending Brigid’s Flame by Lunaea Weatherstone.  In addition to those, I have read several more general books on religion and mythology in Ireland and a bit in Scotland.  I think Weber’s book is excellent for newcomers; there’s so much information there, but she presents it in a warm, narrative style.  Her enthusiasm is infectious.  The lore is accessible, in part because she included her own retellings and interpretations.  While reading those once and claiming to understand everything would be misguided, I’ve found that retellings act as a scaffold when I later read closer translations of Irish mythology.  (Similar to how an easy English text can assist English language learners grasp more complex novels.)

Some information should be taken with a grain of salt.  Weber is one who believes that An Morrigan could be Brighid’s mother.  She also spent a tiny bit of time talking about Maman Brigitte – a Voudon figure I was unfamiliar with.  I’m open-minded, and it’s important to be aware of these possible connections, but also recognize that Weber is sharing her own UPG.  It may very well inspire and inform your practice!  (I was excited to see that Weber also feels Brighid appreciates cinnamon – something I’ve intuited for years.)

Inspiration was my biggest takeaway from the book.  If you have read a decent amount on Irish mythology and folk practice, most of the information will be review.  However, I found Weber’s personal story to be reinvigorating.  The book exists because the goddess demanded it.  Writing and researching was part healing process, part devotional, and part pilgrimage for the author. Oaths are very important in Celtic-inspired faiths, so it was fascinating for me as a Druidess and writer/artisan to see into what is often an intimate process.  I also enjoyed some of the spellwork Weber suggested to grow closer to Brighid.  Much of it was definitely inspired by Wiccan practice (calling the quarters), but the prayers and ideas could be adapted into ADF or reconstructionist ritual as well as she was inspired by Celtic lore and practice initially.  There are many other ideas that individuals or groups could try if their Imbolc or flame keeping rituals and routines have become stale.  The pictures are wonderful.  I always enjoy seeing photos of other peoples’ altars, and there’s a great step-by-step guide to weaving a Brighid cross for those new to the process.

One other noteworthy aspect of the book is the emphasis on giving back to the community.  Weber spends some time discussing the saint’s charity work, and exploring Brighid as a warrior and champion of women and children.  As I read, I felt a strong push to help those in need.  This has been reiterated in my trance and meditation work, and my grove has been talking about taking up collections for a local women’s shelter in the near future.  It’s a start, and it’s partly because of this book!

If you work with Brighid, I recommend this title.  If the goddess is new in your life, this will serve as a great introduction.  If you’ve been Brighid’s priestess for a few years, this may reinvigorate your practice.  You can order Weber’s book on Amazon  or directly from the author.

Next on my Brighid reading list – Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge, and Healing Well by Morgan Daimler.

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It’s been quite a week, but I’ve been meaning to write a more substantial update here for some time.  I figure I should finish and publish this as I move into another week and a new lunar cycle.  Much of this entry has been hanging out in my draft folder for several days.  Why the delay?  My Grove has been saddened by the loss of a grovemate and friend, so we’ve been coming to terms with that. I will write more on our friend and the transition another day. Northern Rivers Grove will honor him during our Spring Equinox celebration. It’s bound to be one of the hardest rituals I’ve ever lead, but it’s important to mark this passage.  My thoughts have been dwelling on death, rebirth, and how to best support my grovemates.

Today I want to share some of the other work I’ve been doing to deepen my Druidry. I’ve continued my slow progress through Trance-Portation by Paxson.  I’ve forced myself to take time on the initial exercises.  I think it’s important to revisit the basics once in awhile, and I know there’s much I could improve.  Shielding, grounding, centering, and visualizing are foundational, and I think I’ve really strengthened these areas since January.  Sometimes I falter, and emotional upsets crack the shell I wrap myself in each morning, but on a whole, it always makes me feel confident and strong.

My new oak leaf and Herkimer diamond pendant from Stellar Creations.

For the last few weeks, my work within Trance 1 and Magic 2 of ADF’s study programs has heavily revolved around creating talismans. It just happened that way, and it’s helped me jump back into the practice after stumbling in my routines around December. One talisman was for a friend.   The other, a custom-made oak leaf pendant with Herkimer diamond, is for myself. It was lovingly crafted by the local artist of Stellar Creations.  I highly recommend her work, and she put a lot of love and meditation into it.  I could definitely feel the energy upon receiving the pendant.

I had been meaning to consecrate a creativity talisman for some time – ever since I started Trance 1 and Magic 2, actually.  It seemed like the perfect working given my many talents and hobbies.  In addition to sewing and crochet, I recently delved back into creative writing.  Since November, I’ve been working on a novel, something I haven’t done since I was in high school.  It’s still a work in progress, but I’m having so much fun.*  And no, I’m not ready to discuss the plot!

I’m a big believer in mental keys.  The smell of incense relaxes my nerves and tells me that it’s time to meditate or ritualize.  Yoga poses signal my body to relax and heal.  Certain pieces of clothing and jewelry can also help us to access parts of our brain, inner realms, or spirit allies.  Ideally, we can grow beyond the need of such talismans, but they are extremely useful to me as a harried mother who works full-time outside of the home…  Sometimes I feel too mired in the demands of this realm, so these tools help me relax, let go, and, in the case of my oak leaf charm, focus on my creativity.

 

*Someday, I will write about how writing has become a form of trance for me…

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The last couple weeks (since I last updated on my work through basic trance exercises and techniques) have felt like a backwards slide.  You see, I went back to work after a long vacation.  In many ways, this was a good thing, especially because it thrust me back into my ten-month routine of waking up with the sun, doing a devotional first thing in the morning, and then going to bed at a decent time.  Unfortunately, getting back into that schedule, on top of all the mental, physical, and, yes, spiritual demands of work – in addition to taking care of my family – has been exhausting.  Trance has been difficult to achieve, let alone attempt.

That isn’t to say I haven’t tried.  I continue to breathe, ground, and shield via visualizations each morning. When I have been stressed, I’ve closed my eyes to visualize all the irritations floating away or burning up in the candle fire…  I engage in the Two Powers often, especially when I do my weekly ADF-style ritual.  Last week I journeyed to my inner grove just to be.  I only moved through my Three Realms yoga practice once since I last wrote about it, which bums me out.

As I move forward and readjust to the usual schedule, I am striving to continue my studies.  I am reading when I can, and I intend to work on some new exercises.  I know that periods of stagnation are normal, but I can’t let it come to that when I’m actively working on my Initiate Path.

Onward, my friends!  Onward and upward!

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The following is an account of my continued work with trance as part of ADF’s Trance 1 course, advanced studies towards Initiate status. I’ve decided to share my personal experiences on my blog as a way of accountability. If some of my reflections happen to help others on similar journeys, I hope they share!

Since I last posted, I’ve been doing a few different things here and there.  I continue to maintain my daily devotionals, and often try to work in short visualizations into it, specifically when I do the Two Powers meditation and shield.  The practice has evolved since I started working through Trance 1.  I see the waters below me and the sun above me.  I let those energies flow into me, feeling the coolness and warmth.  Often, I see myself somewhere that I’ve actually experienced the Two Powers at once, such as while swimming in the St. Lawrence River or Star Lake.  I then let those energies combine and turn into mist.  Sometimes the mist is colored, and I just take note of what color(s) it becomes.  Sometimes I choose a specific color to help me with the day.  I then move into my Druid Egg shielding exercise, visualizing the colored mist flowing out in the directions specified, and solidifying into a protective egg shell that lets positivity in, but refracts negativity. This is one of those practices that I need to remember when writing my essay about using trance in magical workings.

Peace before me.
Peace behind me.

Peace to my right.
Peace to my left.
Peace above me.
Peace below me.
Peace around me.
Peace within me.

From there, I then visualize the mist swirling wider and wider as I inhale and exhale.  It envelopes my whole home and everyone within it.  I pray for protection in my home, then move into making offerings and prayers of gratitude for the Kindreds.  Although this has evolved, I actually started to shield a couple years ago after a negative experience with a co-worker.  Ever since I started beginning my days in this way, I find that I am more positive and happier in all my interactions. I sometimes “renew” the shielding if I have a stressful day.

Something new for me this summer, sometimes I do a moving meditation in the backyard using yoga techniques.  It’s based on the work I did at Star Lake a few weeks ago.  While I don’t have a body of water to commune with at home, I instead focus on the moisture in the grass and soil around me when I do child’s pose.  Then, I work my way into a sun salutation and focus on the warmth and light of the sun shining down upon me.  From there, I do a tree pose, fixing my gaze on a tree ahead – usually a birch tree.  This always seems significant when I do it at the beginning of the day since birch represents new beginnings. It’s still a work in progress, but I really love the way in wakes up my body and engages my mind.  I become really focused on the Three Realms and my access to them when I do this moving meditation.  It does become trancelike in some ways.  I would like to do it more often, and I wonder how it will evolve as the colder season moves in. Like my shielding, it puts me in a great mood for the rest of the day.

I’ve also been working through The Trance Workbook: Understanding and Using the Power of Altered States  by Kay Hoffman.  It’s a bit different from The Way of the Shaman by Harner in that it’s meant to be accessible to people regardless of religious or cultural affiliation.  I know the Harner book is technically meant that way as well, but it is obviously heavily influenced by his experiences with South American tribes and their worldviews.  As discussed elsewhere, I had to put it down for a bit because the exercises started to feel like appropriation, and I really needed to reassess my approach.  I do intend to finish reading it, but if something makes me feel uncomfortable, it’s important that I stop and evaluate the reasons and whether or not I should engage.

Anyway, the beginning of The Trance Workbook contained some thought and word association exercises that I really did not like, but I pushed forward.  I did the “Conscious Confusion as a Healing Trance Technique” as found on page 28.  It involves viewing one hand as negative and the other as positive, then bringing them together to feel a sense of completeness.  Going into it, I thought it would be really silly, but it was actually interesting.  As I slowly brought my hands together, I focused on cultural associations with the right and left hands, then my own.  I did this both physically, but also in my inner grove with my spirit guides around me.  I did not use any drumming this time around, but it was part of a ritual, so the mental cues and incense stimulation was enough.  It was easy for me to get into this trance and then work with my hands.  As I brought my hands together, I thought of how my left hand was not negative, but it was very supportive of my right hand, the leader hand.  The right hand, while dominant, cannot easily do many things without the left, supportive hand.  I felt a sense of completeness in that, realizing that I’m constantly shifting back and forth between leadership and supportive roles, and that’s just who I am.  The omen I drew for that particular ritual was the ogham alder.  Interestingly, according to Ian Corrigan, that symbol means both leadership and support!  It was very affirming, and I reflected on that experience for the rest of the day.

 

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It was difficult to get into any deep trances this past week.  We went away to a camp with some family members for a few days, which will always throw me off my routine.  However, compared to going away to a hotel, it was easier to maintain my typical devotional practices.  I set up a temporary altar and even did a little working on Lughnasadh.  In addition, my daughter and I picked some raspberries and we offered them to the local spirits.

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A temporary altar on the windowsill at camp.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

Like I said, I didn’t engage with any deep trances, but I did do some meditation.  I woke up and left my husband and daughter to rest.  After my morning toilette and devotional, I went outside to the dock where I sat towards the water, relaxed, and breathed.  In my opinion, the best way to engage with the Two Powers or the Three Realms is to sit on the shore of a lake, river, or ocean.  It’s all right there for you to soak up and contemplate!

One day, I noticed a beautiful spiderweb on the dock and just stared at it for awhile.  I was struck by how delicate it was, how dainty, and yet it withstood heat, rain, and wind in order to assist the spider’s killing.  Life and death… all part of the cycle.  I realized it was Lughnasadh, and contemplated the nature of harvest.

After meditating, I did some yoga.  I would love to live on a lake or river one day.  I would go out as often as possible to do yoga on the shore!  How invigorating.  I kept it simple.  I started in child’s pose on the dock, looking through the wooden planks at the shimmering water below.  Behold the waters of life!  I then stretched my arms and fingers upwards in a sun salutation.  Hail to the sky!  I moved into a tree pose, fixating on a pine directly across the lake.  I stand like the World Tree rooted deep, crowned high!  The whole process was a moving meditation, and I felt deeply at peace and connected with the world around me.

While I’m on the topic of trance, I’ve had to put Harner’s book on Shamanism down for a bit.  While I liked the beginning, both for the author’s experiences with Shamanism and indigenous people, and for the “Journey to the Underworld” exercise, I’m starting to find the book worrisome.  The following exercise, about meeting your spirit animal, seemed… well… for lack of a better phrase, it felt like “playing Native.”  I’m all for respectfully learning from other cultures, finding parallels, etc… but it just felt too much like ripping off Indigenous people. Besides, I’ve done a variety of “meet your spirit guide” exercises before, and have been working with spirit guides for awhile in the context of modern Paganism…  Not that I don’t have more to learn (I totally d0), but I just was not feeling that exercise at all.  Amazingly, I started to see a lot of criticism of Harner and his Core Shamanism popping up among my ADF and Reconstructionist friends.  I’m sure there’s some more to learn from the book, and I’ve already grown in trance from the first exercise, but I’m not as enthusiastic about that title anymore…  I’ll pick it up again at some point.  Ah well.  It’s part of the process.

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The following is an account of my continued work with trance as part of ADF’s Trance 1 course, advanced studies towards Initiate status.  I’ve decided to share my personal experiences on my blog as a way of personal accountability.  If some of my reflections happen to help others on similar journeys, I hope they share!

Last week, I posted about my work following The Way of the Shaman by Harner.  My first Underworld exercise was successful.  Listening to a basic, recorded drum beat really helped.  It was interesting to read that most shamans have an assistant drum for them.  This made me feel better about my previous failures drumming to trance.  I’ve had mild success in the past, but it’s hard work and very rare.  Working up the stamina to drum, keeping the same beat, and allowing myself to journey…  it didn’t work well most of the time.  In fact, my biggest success was at a group drumming session.  My second attempt at trance last week did not go so well, and I suspected part of the reason was that I did it outside of a ritual setting.  It lacked the lead up, the offerings made to helpful deities and spirit allies, and the necessary mental keys (aside from the drumming).

I’ve done two more trance exercises since.  The first followed the same theme of journey to the Underworld via an entrance from my inner grove.  I once more rode my spirit guide.  Prior to this journey, I made offerings to Brighid and did my nightly devotional to her.  I remembered seeing a being during my absolute first attempt who I instinctively felt might be her.  We went through the illuminated passage and found our way to her.

The being revealed herself to be Brighid and said she heard me calling. I talked to the Goddess about my focus and where I should head.  She emphasized service to others and truly embracing hospitality and generosity; she stated that those are very important to her.  She specifically mentioned helping the less fortunate.  This is something I will have to think more on as there are many ways to go about this, and I need to figure out what I can do that doesn’t require a lot of money and works with my schedule.  Maybe volunteer at a soup kitchen a bit over the summer?  It would be a good start and is certainly something I can do.

For my second trance journey, I focused on my inner grove and my spirit guide for a magical working.  He gave me a special sign to inscribe on objects to promote increase or growth, and taught me a sort of dance to do.  I utilized the symbol and dance to inscribe and charge some water that I then left out to soak up the new moon energy.  I plan to utilize it in creating some incense.

So there you have it – I’ve kept up the Trance 1 momentum!  I even worked in some magical working, which I can use towards Magic 2!  I wonder what this week will bring?

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