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Posts Tagged ‘Druidry’

Identity

I’ve been ruminating on my identify for the last month. Much of it has involved my association with ADF. You can read about what happened on The Social Justice Druid’s Patreon. Many of us in the community are still processing it all.  I know some have decided to leave. Some are stepping back. The whole situation is discouraging and depressing.

And yet, my grove remains a positive place. I recently ran into a man who  visited our grove a couple times in the past. It wasn’t for him, but we move in the same circles. He asked how the group is doing, and I explained that we’re still around; that we’re a small grove, but we get along. Whenever we do our toast and boast, many express gratitude for the group, describing it as a spiritual family. That’s what it feels like to me. We feel safe to be ourselves, and we keep working to make it a safe space for others who may seek us.

So I’ve been experiencing this odd, disconnected feeling. I’ve talked a bit about it with my grovemates – my worry about being associated with the very real issues that ADF needs to work through. However, I’m also really impressed with the positive work some people are doing to make change or  move forward. Missy Ashton recently shared her own reflections, and they really helped me.

It was time for me to renew my ADF membership. Missy posted her thoughts the day it was due, which seemed like a sign to me. I lapsed, mostly because I forgot due to other things happening in my life, but also because I was still processing.

I literally just renewed. I still possess a lot of trepidation about it, but for now, I’m mostly doing it for my grove after talking to them.

The year going forward, I will continue to watch and reflect. Not just about ADF, but about even calling myself a Druid. I keep worrying that I’m doing a disservice to Gaelic speaking communities using that descriptor… So I’m trying to get back into my studies, learning  more about the authentic folk practices of  my ancestors*. I continue studying Gaeilge (Irish) one Duolingo lesson at a time. I just bought Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland to better inform my practice. I’m so excited to dig in!

As we near a new decade, it seems a prudent time to reflect and reevaluate. Yet I do so with hope and optimism. I prepare to step past the threshold between 2019 and 2020 with a grove of spiritual siblings to support me as we continue our journey together to honor the deities, beloved dead, and land.

*I feel it’s important to remind readers that, although I have been inspired to research and embrace the folk practices of my Irish ancestors, DNA is not a prerequisite for this spiritual path. All you need are an earnest respect for, and desire to learn directly from, the living culture.

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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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I fell behind. Workdays exhaust me, and this was a particularly demanding one since I had to stay very late one of them. I’m not giving up on this challenge, though! It may take me longer than 21 days, but it’s so good and worthwhile, I must not abandon it.

Today I read through some of Oidhe Cloinne Tuireann (The Fate of the Children of Tuireann). Lora O’Brien makes a point to discuss the importance of reading the intact lore rather than just retellings, or else one will miss important or interesting details. Many of the complex, sometimes convoluted, stories have been watered down to increase understanding, and I’m certainly appreciative of that to a point. Irish lore was overwhelming enough to me as a newcomer several years ago. Yet some authors, particularly the Victorian-era English in all their colonial wisdom, removed information that they didn’t like or felt would be difficult for an English-speaking audience to understand. Now that I’ve got a foundation, I’m ready for more. I want to improve and deepen my understanding of my Irish ancestors and the Tuatha de Danann.

Part of why I started this class was to familiarize myself with the recorded lore, as close to the original tellings as possible, and to learn about where I can find these resources. I’ve already learned so much. I had read some truncated versions of “The Fate of the Children of Tuireann,” as well as lore about Miach and Nuada, but, as O’Brien explains, some of the stories are actually mixtures of two or more texts. You have to read them all to truly comprehend the context.

Sure enough, as we delved into Oidhe Cloinne Tuireann, I was immediately exposed to new stories I hadn’t heard before, like the cat-eyed doorman. Fascinating!

In the story, Miach and another healer I hadn’t heard of, Oirmiach, enter Tara and help the king, Nuada, with an ailment. A beetle jumps out of his arm and is killed by those present. Vermin who cause illness is apparently a common motif in Irish lore – one I didn’t notice until O’Brien pointed it out. Were these details overlooked in modern retellings? Did I simply gloss over them without thinking? I don’t know.

The beetle represents illness, an impurity, and it is only recognized and located by the keen eye of the healers. Miach and Oirmiach prove themselves and their worth, much as Lugh has to do when he comes to Tara. The disease must be removed before the healers can replace Nuada’s silver arm with one of flesh. Perhaps the disease is linked to the disfigurement of the king, and the healing was necessary in order for him to truly take his place at the helm of the Tuatha de Dannan.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow and reading more of the story. Once more, I encourage you to start the challenge found at The Irish Pagan School.

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As part of my work on the “Learn the Lore” course in the Irish Pagan School, I’m tasked with reflecting on my knowledge of the file tradition in Ireland as well as my current feelings on poetry. Next, I’m to share my thoughts and feelings on the story studied in days 1 and 2, “Echtra Condla” (The Adventures of Connla the Fair”).

At this point in my spiritual journey, I’m somewhat familiar with what the file tradition is. I have seen the Irish word fili before while reading through mythology and history books about Ireland. (A quick search helped me to linguistically understand that file is the modern Irish word, and fili is plural.) My understanding is that the fili are the bards. In this tradition, words have power. Music also has power, as we know through stories about An Dagda’s harp. To me, poetry is the marriage of language and music, so poetry is incredibly potent. To be a file is to tap into, and channel, that power.

Poetry is also difficult to create. At least in my experience. I try to write it, and often struggle. Prose comes easier to me, and yet I continue to do my best with poetry, especially when I write prayers and chants for my Druidry. I’m excited to learn more about the file tradition in this course. Perhaps this will inspire me?

I found the story of “”Echtra Condla” interesting. I vaguely remember reading it before. I recalled the fairy woman giving Connla and apple, followed by his wasting away, and going with her to the Otherworld. I forgot, or possibly decided to disregard, the woman’s prophesy about the coming of Christianity. In light of yesterday’s reflection, it’s interesting to think about the story as a young man’s conversion experience, and the Otherworld as heaven. As Lora pointed out in the video, while the coming of Christianity to Ireland did bring some problems, it was largely peaceful and positive compared to many other places. And thanks to the monasteries, we have stories like Connla’s. Personally, in my humble, novice opinion, I can see how easy it would be for Christian monks to alter the story for their purposes.

So what is my takeaway as a polytheist? The apple is a symbol of the Otherworld. It shows up in other stories, and I’m sure it will appear again in this course. Tales of Fairies luring away young men and women are also common. It’s interesting that she promises to take Connla to an island populated only by women. It is supposed to be a peaceful place. Take that as you will, I guess! Also of interest to me is the limitation of the Druids. This could very well be Christian propaganda, but it’s also a good reminder that the spirits often have more power than us humans. It’s a lesson in humility.

 

 

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Ah, that crazy time leading up to a ritual.  As Senior Druid of Northern Rivers Grove, organizing the celebrations is often my responsibility.  I embrace it, though it is quite an offering of time and energy.  There was recently a conversation on one of the ADF groups about how ritual leaders feel following ceremonies.  Many describe feeling drained, and that is usually how I feel.  Even when things go well, I need to spend a lot of time in my pjs the next day.

Preparation is hard work, especially because our rituals aren’t held on grove property.  We have to carry our tools, food, cutlery, workshop materials, and membership information to a building that often serves another purpose.  They do not have room to house our materials, nor should they.  Many tools need cleaning, physically or spiritually, after our gatherings, after all.  Liturgies need to be written, and chant sheets prepared. Group offerings and magical materials packed. I need to check on all the celebrants prior to our ritual.

I’m trying to delegate more, but I’ve always been a bit of a control freak.  I like things done a certain way, and I’m learning to let go a bit.  It’s important to do that as I won’t be the Senior Druid forever, and the grove belongs to all its members.  Still, I forget about little jobs that I could hand out.  Things like greeting guests and explaining things often fall to me by default.  Sometimes it seems people need permission to handle some tasks because they’re used to me handling them.  I’ve read other groves assign the role of host/hostess to someone not in charge of ritual, and I think that’s brilliant!  This time, another member is taking charge of the workshop, while another is handling the kid activity.  Wooo!  I can breathe a bit.

Anyway, in the spirit of making sure everything is ready, here’s a prayer I wrote today.  I’m participating in the #prayeraday challenge that many ADFers are contributing to.  I hope you enjoy my Pre-Ritual Prayer!

preritualprayer

 

Pre-Ritual Prayer

I pray our liturgy complete,
The tools lovingly packed.
I pray the meal is cooked to eat,
The plates carefully stacked.

I pray the chants we chose today
Inspire and uplift.
I pray my offerings in tow.
Kindreds, accept my gift!

I pray our guests are kind of heart-
Find solace in our light.
I pray we all arrive on time,
Then reach home safe at night.

By Grey Catsidhe

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My work through the Initiate Path of ADF has been slow but steady this past year. I may not always be “studying” in the traditional sense, and I may not be as prolific as others in ADF, but I’m always doing something. Writing prayers for my practice is one such something.

The very practical prayers preserved in the Carmina Gadelica inspired me since I first read them.  There are prayers and songs for all manner of mundane but very important activities such as herding cattle and weaving.  These chores become imbued with sacred purpose when you add that extra focus and energy. Song and prayer is also an excellent offering.  I’ve been working to infuse my own life with small acts of magic, blessing, and thanksgiving.  Not only does it keep me connected to my tradition, the land, and the spirits, but it buoys me up during difficult times, helping me feel part of something greater, even when life becomes overwhelming.  (And believe me… September has found me feeling detached at times…)

On this Autumn Equinox, I share with you a prayer I started around the Summer Solstice, and tweaked throughout the season.  I now say it while tending my garden, or harvesting food and herbs as I did today.  I usually sing it to the tune of “Now the Rite is at an End.”  It just fits!

 

The image includes a photo of some herbs I collected today while singing the above.  My hands smell like the mugwort, calendula, and sage I harvested.  Here’s text for those who’d like it:

Spirits of this plant, I pray
And give thanks for this great crop.
May you heal and nourish us,
And the cycle never stop.

– by Grey Catsidhe, 2018

 

May your harvest be bountiful, and I hope you get outside to enjoy the seasonal changes.  As for my family, we are joining with our grovemates to celebrate!  Feel free to utilize the prayer in your own celebrations and gardening work.  Or, even better, perhaps it will inspire you to write your own!

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