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Posts Tagged ‘Earth Mother’

I recently watched a documentary called “When the Iron Bird Flies: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West.”  It was both informative and inspirational.  Although Druidism, largely informed by Gaelic Polytheism, is my spiritual home, Buddhism has always interested me.  I often find myself watching documentaries about it and reading about it when I can (although I remain a novice on the subject).  One thing I found particularly fascinating about this documentary was that it wasn’t so much about the history of the religion/philosophy; the focus was on how Tibetan monks brought the practice to America, and how that practice looks here.  Many of the tensions that exist in modern American Druidism can, in some ways, find a parallel in Buddhism in America.  For example, how much value should be placed on cultural traditions versus the central tenants?  How can we create spaces for our religious practices that don’t compromise our values?  How can we take a very old tradition from another land or culture (even one that belonged to our ancestors), and make it relevant to modern people in a different land?  How much time should be spent studying versus practicing? I think modern Pagans of many traditions can learn a lot from the movie.  It’s also especially inspiring to see how this minority faith has been able to build beautiful centers for its adherents around America.  In short, the Buddhist community in the US seems to exist because there are very devoted and serious members who spend a lot of time and, yes, resources on their spiritual passions.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about what drew me to Druidism through comparing my “conversion experience” to those shared on the camera.  Like the Americans drawn to Buddhism, I embraced Druidism because the messages I was receiving from the dominant culture did not resonate with me or my values.  So often, business and money are elevated above health, the environment, and true self-improvement.  “American Culture” is so influenced by monotheism as well as a tendency to generalize “exotic” concepts from other cultures.  So much of that is often watered down until it’s as useful as an advertising slogan.  It’s no wonder so many people like myself look outward or even backwards to a time many have forgotten.  I sought something different, fully willing to get my feet muddy and be transformed.

In Buddhism, part of the central focus has to do with suffering.  Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths address the reality of suffering and how we must come to terms with that and find peace. Druidism, as we know it, doesn’t really emphasize that so much, but in some ways, it could be argued that the suffering of Nature brought me to it.  In recognizing that my brother and sister Nature Spirits suffer, that we are all connected, and therefore their suffering is my suffering, I embraced Paganism and eventually modern Druidism.  Did the ancient Druids have teachings on suffering?  Perhaps.  The closest I can get to it right now is through the reported belief in life after death and the heroic way mythic warriors ran into battle, even when fate was against them.  Yes, you may have broken a geis – a taboo – that will lead to your downfall, but there is still honor in fighting because there’s integrity in it, courage in it, and people will sing of your perseverance despite the suffering you may endure.  So, I suppose, suffering is indirectly addressed in Druidism, but it doesn’t seem to be a central focus (nor does my attempt at finding a parallel mean that there has to be one).

So what is the central focus of Modern Druidism?

Harmony.

After a lot of thought and meditation, I’ve realized that my own concept of Modern Druidism’s central focus is harmony.  Again, I want to stress that this is just my opinion and only applicable to Modern (Neo) Druidism, though influenced by my fledgeling studies of Gaelic Polytheism.  Perhaps others would disagree, and my thoughts will likely evolve as I grow.  Right now – harmony.

So why harmony?

Many in the Druidic and Gaelic Polytheistic communities will agree that the concept of reciprocity is huge in Indo-European cultures.  The lore shows us that there must be an exchange of something in order for the cosmos to stay in order.  Rulers must protect their subjects and fairly distribute resources.  In exchange, everyone in the realm continues to work hard so that resources are obtained and everyone receives the services they need.  Culture can flourish.  When the ruler mistreats his or her people, as Bres did the Tuatha Dé Danann, there is disharmony that must be rectified.  In some stories, even the land herself rebels, hence accounts of sacrificial kings and symbolic marriage to the land.  In ADF Druidism, our liturgical tradition is based around reciprocity.  “A gift calls for a gift,” it is said.  When you are in a productive, healthy, meaningful relationship with another, there is mutualism.  The tall oak may appear to be the most important being in the forest, but such an ecosystem flourishes because of the give and take of the collective.  There must be harmony.

How can harmony, as a core concept of Druidism, apply to our practice?

For the Buddhists in the documentary, suffering influenced people to go through great lengths to improve themselves and their ability to find peace.  Obviously, there is a lot of meditation, but there is also a lot of study.  Whereas the stereotypical monk spends much of his or her day in meditation, in reality, he or she is also involved in a deep study of philosophy and, as Druids would call it, lore. Several of the Western Buddhists were also engaged in studying the Tibetan language to better engage with the culture that inspires them – something many modern Gaelic Polytheists can understand. At one point in the film, some of the monks discuss the importance of memorizing whole texts in Tibetan.  One man explained that there may come a day when someone will ask a question, and rather than make an excuse such as, “Oh, well, I don’t have my books with me right now,” you become the book.  That reminded me of the ancient Druids and their emphasis on oral history; they were said to activity discourage the written text.  Modern Druids have taken the pendulum and swung it the other way.  I think the Buddhists are on to something with regards to studying texts but then working to memorize them – to internalize them.  There’s a harmony there.  Furthermore, they have to find a harmony between their book studies and their spiritual practice of meditation.  A reoccurring discussion in Pagan circles often involves the need to find a balance between how much time one spends studying and actually working or experiencing.

Looking to a very successful minority religious practice for inspiration, one can see the benefits of finding harmony between both. In addition, Modern Druids must also find a harmony between doing that individual study and work, and then serving the community.  In my opinion, based on the historical basis, Druidism is a religion in service to others – the tribe, the spirit world, and the land.  Thus we nourish harmony within ourselves, then cultivate it around us in our relationships.

Harmony with Nature

As explained above, working with Nature was a driving force in my coming to Druidism.  While I wouldn’t describe our ancient predecessors as environmentalists, there’s evidence that they had animistic-type beliefs such as a deep respect for the land and the reciprocity needed to maintain harmony. The rich lore about Nature from Celtic nations inspired me, and the landscape reminded me of my own in certain ways. The modern world is so out of harmony with Nature. It only seems natural for people who strive to cultivate positive relationships with the spiritual world -including the spirits of Nature all around us – to embrace a lifestyle that at least attempts to live in better harmony with the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits. Historical precedence will only take us so far. The necessity for modern Druids to embrace environmentalism (of some breed) is based on contemporary needs. Many in the modern Buddhist community are doing the same. Their meditations on the beauty of Nature have moved several to act. The documentary gave some examples of how modern Buddhists are out picking up litter, marching in protest of environmental degradation, and speaking out for more sustainable practices. Seeing that was really inspiring.  Again – harmony between the desires of the self and the needs of the community.  Druids should also embrace that.

How do you find harmony in Druidism or Gaelic polytheism?  If you feel differently than I do about the central focus of Druidism, what is your opinion and why do you think that?

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With each ritual, with each prayer of thanks before a meal, I reflect on my relationship with the Earth Mother. Honoring her in word and deed is an integral part of my Druidic path. During prayer I often say, “May my greatest offerings be my daily attempts at living in better harmony with you.” The more I grow, the more I learn, and the harder I try. Baby steps; persistent, pious baby steps. To me, changing behavior or working in an attempt to do less harm to the Earth Mother and my brother and sister Nature Spirits, is akin to offerings and sacrifice.

But sometimes I make mistakes or I’m not as mindful as I could have been. For example, I accidentally left a gadget plugged in to charge at work. It will continue to waste energy until I return. I felt my “green guilt” all day…

As I hung my daughter’s cloth diapers to dry before bed, I reminded myself how much I am trying. Further more, I realized I shouldn’t let guilt weigh me down. I need to learn from my mistakes, sure, but I need to honor the Earth Mother with my hard work and joy. Guilt can be debilitating. There is no sense wallowing in it. I picked myself up and thought, “I’m persevering, honoring the Earth Mother in the way I can right now.” With that, I realized I should turn off the porch light that I had forgotten. (One forgets a lot with a toddler running around…) Those small extra bits of effort all add up, and that taking control of something restored my joy and faith in myself as an evolving priestess of an Earth-centered path.

Tomorrow is Earth Hour. It’s a symbolic way to show devotion to the Earth Mother through a willingness to make small changes. It should not merely end with you turning the lights back on after an hour meditating in darkness. What can you do, in your current circumstances, to live in better harmony with Nature all year? Can you persevere and piously continue? Can you do it with joy in your heart, knowing that you’re taking a much-needed step in the right direction?

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The poet, Shane Koyczan, takes a more “rationalistic” and archetypal view of the Gods, but I find his view on the Titan Atlas, particularly his modern relevance, to be fascinating. Just as interesting is his retelling of the age-old story of the Earth Mother and Sky Father. How is ancient myth relevant to our currant environmental crisis?  Just watch.  Koyczan’s poem is very moving and gives hope in what can otherwise seem like a hopeless situation.

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Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014

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A lovely, moss-covered rock I encountered on my walk today.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

A lovely, moss-covered rock I encountered on my walk today. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Today I went to the forest to do a devotional. It’s a perfect day for that. The sky is clear, allowing the sun to hit the changing leaves. It makes them look like a brilliant flame!

As a precaution against hunters and bears, I donned a red jacket and, once I was in the forest, sang “We Approach the Sacred Grove” on my way to my little nemeton. When I got there, I circled clockwise, stopping before the oak tree. I then allowed myself to breathe and take in the beauty of my surroundings. I felt so at peace and thankful to be there. It’s something I look forward to each week. If I miss my walks for some reason, I do my devotionals inside, but there’s something extra special about doing them in the forest.

I called to Brighid as a Goddess of inspiration and as a gatekeeper. Like others in ADF, I have been experimenting with this portion of ritual and looking to the fire as the beginning of a ritual working upon reaching the sacred space. While I do not start fires in the forest, I look up to the sun as the great bonfire in the sky. I prayed to Brighid:

Lady Brighid, Goddess of flame,

I pray that your fire sparks the flames in my mind

Inspiring me to speak with truth, beauty, and eloquence.

I pray that your fire shines a light into the darkness,

Chasing away the negativity.

I pray that your fire’s smoke carry my prayers to the Other Worlds

And that you open the ways.

Lady Brighid – let the ways be open!

 

It is a work in progress. I feel that I tweak that process and prayer a little each time, but I like how it is working out.

I attuned with the fire, well, and tree, meditating on their symbolism and power. This is always very visceral for me when I’m outside. I focus on how I sense them. The sun’s warmth and light touches my face, the creek nearby often gurgles, or the sun glints off the raindrops on the leaves. The oak tree, which I lean on when I focus on the Two Powers, gives me strength and stability. The firm earth gives me a foundation on which to stand.

I sang to the Earth Mother, then bent to give her a kiss. Next, I prayed and gave offerings to the Three Kindreds, followed by special offerings for my spirit guide and patroness.

When I am in the woods, I meditate, but not the way I do inside. Being out in a forest, off a path, I need to be mindful of the possible dangers. I relax but generally don’t close my eyes. I stand against the oak tree and soften my gaze. I let myself truly open up to the sensations of the forest. My purpose in going to the forest is to commune with the land, with the Nature Spirits there, and praise the Kindred among the trees. I’m not trying to escape that in some way by visualizing an alternate grove. When I meditate in the forest, it is to fully immerse myself in that environment. When I leave, I carry that with me for all the times I pray and meditate inside. Going into the woods is like recharging a battery.

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Rowan tree in Alexandria Bay, NY.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Rowan tree in Alexandria Bay, NY.   The leaves haven’t really changed, but the berries are bright red!  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

This is my favorite time of year, so naturally I’m over the moon when it comes to sharing it with my little one.  It’s hard to enjoy traditions, old or new, with an infant, however. This year is a whole new experience!  She’s able to interact with the world around her, so it’s a great time to introduce her to all things autumn.  Here are some of the things we’ve been doing.  Teaching little ones about the cycle of the year, the sacredness of Nature, and our holidays is as easy as seasonal pie!

Autumn Fun with a One Year Old

    • Take nature walks and look at the trees.  Say hello and even give them hugs.  Point out the different colors.
    • Pick apples, clumps of rowan berries, or acorns, and thank the trees for their bounty. In fact, get in the habit of always saying prayers of thanks with your child.
    • Run through piles of crinkly leaves.  (I’d love to make a labyrinth like these people did!)
    • Show your toddler how dried leaves turn into dust when you crinkle them in your fingers.
    • Visit a local apple cider press.  Learn how apple cider is made (Bee was scared of the noisy machines), or at least smell that intoxicating aroma!  Give your little one a tiny taste of an apple cider donut.  Just a tiny one.
    • Visit your local pumpkin patch and let your tot pick out her own pumpkin.  Show her how varied pumpkins can be.  The warty ones are especially fun to touch!
    • We haven’t done this yet, but my plan is let Bee decorate her own pumpkin via finger painting.  (There are some lovely toddler pumpkin ideas here.)
    • Sing fun songs about the season.  An easy one, which goes to the tune of “10 Little Indians,” goes like this:
      One little, two little, three little pumpkins.
      Four little, five little, six little pumpkins.
      Seven little, eight little, nine little pumpkins.
      Ten little pumpkin pals!
    • Find milkweed seeds and make wishes together when you blow them away.
    • Pick the last of the harvest together.  Let your little one eat a few goodies fresh from the vines.  Bee loves cherry tomatoes.
    • Wave goodbye to the Canada geese as they fly south.
    • Make a Samhain playlist and dance to it together.
    • Last year, I chose what my child was wearing for Samhain.  This year, although Bee can’t exactly articulate what she wants to dress as herself, I decided to make a costume based on something she really loves – cats!  Sure, I could dress her up as a favorite fantasy character, but I would rather she recognize what she’s pretending to be.
    • Read interactive books about the season together.  I just gave her I Love You, Little Pumpkin, and she adores it.  It introduces the idea of dressing up, which is one of the most easily accessible childhood traditions.  She especially likes the little mirror at the end of the book.
    • If you haven’t already, make an ancestral altar.  Visit it often as a family.  If possible, take a trip to a family grave. Pray to the Ancestors together, and make offerings.
    • Make some delicious applesauce and enjoy it together.
    • When you wake up to morning frost, tell your toddler a simple story about An Cailleach.  They may not understand everything, but it builds a foundation.  I simply say, “Oooh, An Cailleach is waking up!  Soon, she’ll bring winter back!”

What are some of your favorite ways to share Autumn and Samhain traditions with your little one?  I can’t wait to add to my list and do even more sophisticated things with Bee next year!

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Apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014

Upstate New York is known for its delicious apples. Each autumn, orchards roll out their red, yellow, and green goodness, cider presses offer their ambrosial best, and folks everywhere delight at the numerous confections produced in kitchens across the land.  When fresh apples appear in mounds at farmers’ markets and grocery stores, when the cider presses open, that is when autumn has officially arrived, and this little Druid rejoices!

While I’ll join my fellow grovies on Saturday for a formal ritual to honor and thank the Earth Mother for her bounty, I’ve spent my Autumn Equinox eating a homemade meal with my little family and enjoying the harvest of apples – including some from a tree right outside my home! I’ve already dehydrated some for snacking.  Today I decided to do something simple and quick – apple sauce.

It’s such a simple dish – a large batch of apples, water, sugar, and cinnamon.  Recipes say that last ingredient is optional, but you’re a strange one if you omit it.  Blended together, the aroma wafts through the home, the most welcomed autumn incense you could dream up.  While the plant world is dying or preparing for sleep, the smell of apples is youthful energy unleashed!

Homemade goodness. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Unlike store-bought applesauce, the homemade variety, fresh off the stove, tastes like apple pie filling without the crust.  All the good stuff – the heart and soul of the autumn season.  The only thing more gastronomically titillating is pumpkin pie filling.  Oh, mama… Speaking of mamas, there’s something very motherly about apple sauce to me.  Perhaps it’s because one of my first childhood memories is of watching my grandmother make it using apples straight off her tree – apples I helped to pick and sort.  As my baby salivated and smiled at the sugary treat of apple sauce, I realized that I was passing along yet another North Country tradition, one that goes back generations to the Old World.

Drying apple head. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Another apple tradition, one that I’ve never tried before, is drying apple heads to make dolls.  As someone who enjoys making dolls and learning about traditional arts, I don’t know why it’s taken me this long.  Using an apple that had a massive bruise on one side (normally I’m not a fan of wasting food, but this one was going to get thrown in a hedge anyway), I carved a face, inserted peppercorns for eyes, and placed in my oven on a low setting. It’s still drying nicely, and my hope is to make an offering for our Autumn Equinox celebration this weekend.

I hope your own harvest celebrations have been equally sweet and inspiring!   May your harvest invigorate your heart, mind, and soul, and may it reconnect you to your Ancestors and the rhythms of Nature!

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