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Posts Tagged ‘lore’

Each week, I draw a card from my Druid Animal Oracle deck as an omen for the week.  I pray for guidance as I go forward.  During this week’s ritual, I pulled the owl card. I’m not used to seeing this omen, so the meaning didn’t come to me right away.  At first I thought about wisdom, stealth in the dark, and change because of the myth of Blodeuwedd the flower maiden.  She is transformed into an owl for betraying Lugh.  

This made me stop and think a lot about change.  The frog card can signify change, but it’s a total change – inside and out, possibly including one’s environment.  Snake can also indicate change, but more superficial.  One must shed one’s skin in order to grow.  What kind of change is the owl, then?  A punishing change?  An unwanted change?  Change via divine intervention?

I then thought about the link between owls and An Cailleach, as the Scottish-Gaelic cailleach-oidhche refers to owls.  An Cailleach transforms from old to young in several stories.  Could the owl card refer to a change via age or even a spiritual transformation?

I asked for more clarification and drew another card after shuffling.  This time the cat card came to me.  I associate this card with protecting the home and, at times, sensuality.  The former meaning comes from some Irish stories in which cats guard treasure, especially in fairy realms.  As I have cats at home, I see them as protectors and very hearth-centric.  I thought more about the connection between the cards.  They are both predators capable of seeing in the dark, yet I felt more confused.

Although I feel I have a good sense of the cards, their meanings, the symbolism of the animals, and my own understanding of their lore and biology most of the time, I occasionally turn to the companion book for further insight. I might have forgotten something.  Interestingly, another meaning for both cards is “detachment.”  Well, when both cards have literally the same word in their symbolic description, it’s hard to overlook the emphasis.

I’m not sure what this omen means to me yet.  Is it a blessing?  A warning before something comes up?  Maybe it means that, in order to engage with the spiritual change I seek, I need to take some time for myself.  This would make sense given my last post about  once more delving into trance practice.  Only time will tell.

Learning a divination system can be a complex process, but I love how rich and thought-provoking it is.

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Since giving birth, I’ve looked for ways to introduce and include my daughter in our holidays.  It was all about basic inclusion when she was an infant and one-year-old.  Now that she’s two, she’s better able to interact with her environment, discuss things she enjoys, and make bigger connections.

Bee’s Scribble Pumpkin Face – Photo by Grey Catsidhe 2015

We don’t carve Jack-o-lanterns until a week or so before Samhain, but I love to start decorating for the holiday as soon as October begins. Finally, Bee is old enough to notice that something special is happening and realize that she can help. Bee is working on her coloring skills, which will eventually help her with her writing skills. I want to encourage this as much as possible, and toddlers enjoy novelty. She’s aware of Samhain and Halloween thanks to special episodes of some of her favorite shows, and she knows what pumpkins are. I cut out some pumpkin shapes from orange construction paper and told her to draw faces on them. It was pretty amazing to see her spatially reason where eyes, noses, and mouths should appear.  My husband and I took turns coloring with her. If you do this craft with your toddler, it’s a perfect time to start talking about the lore behind Jack-o-lanterns in preparation for later carving.   In addition to making decoration, we also gave some to loved ones as cards.  I think we may make some skulls to put around the Ancestor shrine next!

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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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Since the last couple weeks have been bitter cold or too snowy to safely walk in the forest, I stayed close to home and gave some thought to the tree nearest me.

I recently started an exploration of the ash tree in my front yard.  Of course, I will continue to visit the forest regularly, but it seems silly to do so at the expense of the Nature Spirits around my own home!  There must be an equal, if not greater, attention placed on the nature in my immediate vicinity.  It is part of my home.  The tree provides shade to myself and some of my garden.  It is a home to birds we enjoy watching from our windows.  I must come to a better understanding of the ash tree!

Ash trees predominantly grow in the temperate regions of the Eastern US (Brockman 254).  They grow well in “disturbed” land, and archaeologists have noted their presence near Celtic settlements (Nova).   For modern folk, it’s often considered an ornamental but it apparently has expansive roots that are very competitive with other trees (Blamires 97).  Ash was one of the nine woods used to start the sacred Bealtaine fires (Freeman 84).

In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is an ash tree, thus it is of extreme cultural and cosmological importance.  The tree was even used to create the first man in that mythology ( Ellison 22). In Celtic lore, the ash could refer to weaving, particularly the weaver’s beam, but also warrior spears (Ellison 21).  There is acheological evidence showing that ancient Celts used ash for their spears more than other woods (Blamires 98).  To me, this suggests that the ogham symbol could be used for offensive type magic.  Blamires makes a connection between the ash spears and Lugh’s famous spear from Gorias that he used to defeat Balor (99), but also goes on to connect it to magical wands and, as a result, the magician’s will.  Personally, I find that there are other trees better related to sorcery and magical will, in particular the oak with its rich spiritual connotations, etymological connection to the Druids, and strength.  (As a novice to these matters, I will maintain an opened mind and welcome any thoughts on the matter!)  However, I do find his thoughts on looking to ash when you need to take action intriguing .  He states that we all experience moments of spiritual inertia, and the ashen spear can act as a motivation for us – “checking the peace,” as he says (100).  In contemplating this idea, I’m reminded of Norse mythology again, and Odin hanging from Yggdrasil – an act of sacrifice to obtain runic knowledge.  There is the suggestion of pushing oneself to reach new levels.  With regards to the weaver’s beam, Cuchulain uses it as “a poetic allusion to a spear” (101).  Brighid’s son Ruadan is also killed by a spear in the Second Battle of Mag Tured.  The text once more connects spears with weavers’ beams (101).  I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, except that it can be used to make very practice items – so perhaps it could be considered a wood of the craftsman too?

Ash has some magical properties.  In Scotland, people swear oaths on the wood of ash, oak, and thorns (Freeman 84).    Pins were also placed in the trees and used to remove warts with the charm “ashen tree, ashen tree, pray buy these warts off of me” (Ellison 22).  The sap has been used for bladder stones, and the leaves and bark have laxative properties (Blamires 98).  It was common for people to visit sacred ash trees and pray for healing for their children.  In Ireland, young ash trees were split to create a threshold of sorts.  Children were passed through this to promote healing.  Mara Freeman explains this was used to heal infant hernia, while attaching some baby hair to the ash was said to prevent whooping cough (84).

It is difficult to be 100% about the species of ash where I live.  Green, black, and white are similar, but I am leaning towards the later.  I observed the leaves and seed pods in the summer and fall, but I will have to pay special attention to them this year.  In the meantime, I try to look and say hello when I’m out.  It warmed up a little, so I took Bee with me.  We mad offerings to the local spirits, including the ash tree, and enjoyed its company.

Bee relaxing in the snow next to the ash tree. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Works Cited

Blamires, Steve.  Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham.  St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1997.

Brockman, C. Frank.  Trees of North America: A guide to Field Identification. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001.

Ellison, Roert Lee “Skip.”  Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids.  Tucson: Ár nDraíocht Féin Publishing, 2007.

Freeman, Mara.  Kindling the Celtic Spirit.  San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001.

Ghosts of Murdered Kings.  Edward Hart Dir.  NOVA, 2013.

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Given to me by  The Witch of Howling Creek

Although some may think of this as just another blogging meme, I am delighted to receive this Versatile Blogger Award from the Witch of Howling Creek.  It’s always nice to know someone enjoys reading my blog.

Here are the associated rules:

  • Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post
  • Share 7 things about yourself
  • Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading (I’m only going to do 3 because, like others have said, 15 seems like rather much.  3 is so much more Druidic, no?)
  • Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award

Seven Things About Me:

1. When I was 7 or 8, I told my mother I wanted to be a witch when I grew up.  I then turned my dresser into the typical Hollywood witch’s altar complete with plastic cauldron, rubber spiders, and vials of colored water.  I really freaked my dad out that week…  And I remember setting it all up then not really knowing what to do next…

2. I used to be Catholic.  Went through the whole confirmation and everything…  Shortly after that, I began to rebel.

3. My mother taught me how to sew when I was 5 or 6.  My first creation was a pillow which I felt looked like the Earth.  I was convinced it should go in a museum.  Oh, how confident I was…  lol

4.  I met my husband at a Halloween party.  I was dressed as a medieval maiden and he was a Rastafarian.  We really didn’t talk to each other until a couple months later when he enrolled at my college.

5. We actually had our first date on Valentine’s Day.  A couple years later, we would decide the holiday just wasn’t for us and we haven’t celebrated since.

6.  I love to travel but don’t get to as often as I’d like.  I’ve been to a few states on the East Coast.  I live in Upstate NY but have never been to NYC (crazy, I know…).  As far as foreign countries, I’ve been to a couple Canadian provinces, parts of England, Paris, and parts of Ireland.

7. I used to want to get away from my family – now I adore them and wish they would move closer to me.

Three Awesome Blogs I Recently Started to Follow:

  1. The Red Lass – A fellow seeker but also an herbalist!  I’m interested in her natural beauty products and just ordered some makeup remover.
  2. Tairis Tales – This excellent blog, written by a Celtic Reconstructionist, shares lore from Celtic nations.  There has been something new and informative every day!
  3. Stitch Witch Cottage – A fellow Pagan and artisan here!  I adore her creations.  Very inspiring!

 

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Slowly, slowly – I’m reading through Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael.  It’s an absolutely fascinating read, and a must for anyone following a Celtic-inspired path.  Although it’s focus is on the Scottish Highlands and surrounding islands, those who have an Irish hearth culture would benefit greatly from its contents.

Anyway, the other day I reached a “Prayer for Protection.”  It is Christian, of course:

Christ be between me and the fairies,

My frown upon each tribe of them!

This day is Friday on the sea and on land –

My trust, O King, that they shall not hear me.

A healthy respect, and even fear, of fairy-folk has existed in Celtic nations for generations.  Today, many Pagans insist that fairies are all light and goodness, possessing an altruism towards humanity.  That can be true for some, especially Tuatha Dé Danann like Brighid, but most (based on lore, my few experiences, and the work of others) are ambivalent, mischievous, and occasionally malicious.  They are part of nature which encompasses the creative as well as the destructive.  Their varied natures should surprise no one.  Thus the above prayer makes a lot of sense, especially considering that many of the people interviewed by Carmichael lived in rural areas and struggled with the hardships of Nature regularly.

In ADF, we work with our allies – some of whom may be considered fairies.  Spirits who do not fit that category are Outsiders (or Outdwellers).  They are spirits who have stood against our Gods, destructive beings, illness, ancestors who don’t care for us… hell even mosquitos can be considered Outsiders in a ritual!  They are not necessarily evil – their goals just don’t align with our own.  Outsiders are a natural part of the cosmos.  When we hold our rites, we ask for our allies to be with us and the Outsiders to leave us in peace.  Every grove goes about this differently.  Some give offerings during ritual, some at the end and only if the rite has gone without disturbance.  Some groups turn their back on the Outsiders while a warrior confronts them.  Others still consider internal stresses and anger to be Outsiders.  They envision them going into a box which is moved out of the ritual space.

The above prayer from Carmina Gadelica could easily be rewritten and used in an ADF rite to ask for protection from the Outsiders.

Kindreds be between me and the Outsiders,

My frown upon each tribe of them!

This day is (Imbolc, Saturday, etc) on the sea and on land-

My trust, Kindreds, that they shall not hear me.

 

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Tonight, a recipe perfect for wintery nights! It uses an ingredient native to my home in Upstate NY –  pinus strobus – The Eastern White Pine.  If you live around the North Eastern part of America, you’re probably very familiar with these trees.  They should be especially recognizable to anyone who has ever spent time in the Adirondack Mountains.  They’re very common there!  In fact, the word “Adirondack” is Iroquois for “bark eater” – a reference by the Mohawks of the Algonquins.  They would eat the nutritious inner bark during difficult winters.  The White Pine is also culturally important to the Iroquois as the Tree of Peace.

Cultural significance aside, this tree is packed with vitamin C.  Sources claim it has as much as five times the vitamin C in a lemon.  It is a great drink to boost your immune system and fight off a variety of ailments.  Thus not only is it fun to drink an evergreen tea during the Winter Solstice, it’s exactly the sort of thing to drink as “flu season” gets underway!

Just a couple notes of caution: You want to make certain you are harvesting white pine.  This site has some good photos and information about poisonous conifers to keep in mind. Get a tree field guide and research.  Really, if you’re on a Druidic path this should be something you’re doing a lot of anyway!  Second, many sources insist that pregnant or potentially pregnant women should not consume white pine as it has abortive qualities.  Other sources say the tea is fine, but let’s just play it safe, ok?

I harvested some well-known white pines from my parents’ back yard.  I’ve grown up with these trees.  My father transplanted them as wee saplings from a family camp.  Before cutting a small branch, I told the tree of my intent and asked for permission.  Anyone who works with trees should definitely get in the habit of doing this.  Also keep in mind that a gift calls for a gift  and make an offering.  When actually taking cuttings from trees, I’ve made a practice of offering bits of myself – usually hair but sometimes blood.  (You can give other offerings in addition or in substitution of these).

Wash your pine needles thoroughly before using in your tea.  Pine trees are a favorite haunt of many creatures including blue jays and squirrels, after all!  Begin to boil some water.  You have a couple different options here.  Many boil water in a pot or pan then add a handful of needles to steep for 10-20 minutes. You can also put several needles in a tea ball or muslin sachet and pour boiling water over it in a cup like I did.  You definitely do not want to swallow those pricky needles!

The tea will be very mild.  It has a slight but pleasant pine and citrusy flavor. You may sweeten it with honey or mix with other herbs.  There are many magical possibilities for this tea. Sing or chant healing words before serving to an ill loved one.  Meditate on its healing properties as you drink it.  Envision yourself staying healthy throughout the winter as the white pine stays green.

Although there is no Druidic lore (that I’m aware of) connected to pine, it is a native tree in the land I call home.  In my opinion, it is very important to learn the lore and science of traditionally Druidic trees as well as those in the land you live in.  Be mindful of the cultural significance of the tree to Native peoples, and try to connect to its spirit respectfully.

References:
Pines - Not Just For Breakfast Anymore
The Amazing All-Purpose Pine Needle Tea
Frequently Asked Questions About the Adirondack Region
Pinus strobus - Wikipedia

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