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Posts Tagged ‘reflection’

The actual Autumn Equinox felt more like Summer’s last gasp.  The leaves were changing, but the heat was intense for September in Upstate NY.  It makes me glad that my grove decided to celebrate a week later.  Yesterday was perfect.  The air was finally cool; the wind had a bite.  The sun shined through flocks of happy clouds.  It was the perfect day to stand around a bonfire surrounded by standing stones.

Before ritual, my daughter had seen me working on offerings throughout the week.  I embroidered a token and an ornament.  I decorated a stone.  She saw me go into a liquor store to get Brighid’s favorite.  She decided she wanted to make offerings, too.  Without any prompting, she started to draw pictures for Brighid and the Nature Spirits.  It was so precious.  She even wanted to roll them up and tie them with pretty yarn.  It made my chest swell with pride to see her so interested in giving back to say thank you for all our blessings.  My husband and I even saw her singing along to some of our chants during ritual.

My friend Cassandra lead the rite.  She did a remarkable job, as always.  I’m so proud of her.  She recently completed her Dedicant Path, and now I have a study buddy for the Initiate Program!

Our ritual honored the Earth Mother and gave thanks for the harvest.  Our magical working was to send healing wherever it was needed, and to keep that light with us so that we could remember ways to help.  With everything happening in the world, I feel like I went to a dark place with my ritual parts. We called to various Indo-European Earth Mothers.  I called to Gaia and Macha – both goddesses who were mistreated by others, be they other gods/Titans, or kings and other men.  Gaia was in an abusive relationship.  Macha was betrayed and forced to hurt herself while pregnant, resulting in a curse on all the men of Ulster.  I spoke of outwitting oppressors, and escaping victim-hood.  I spoke of  the Earth as the ultimate mistress, who will always have the last laugh if we mistreat her.  When I called to the Gods, I felt compelled to talk about how we strive to emulate their better qualities rather than their failings, much as children should do with their own parents.  Clearly, the news is getting to me, but I always see ritual as an important time to reflect on the lore, how it relates to what is happening in the now, and how it all translates to our Druidism.

I see the darkness, but I also see my daughter’s growing involvement.  Like a little candle herself, she gives me strength and hope.

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Our Winter Solstice altar – photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

I’m finally enjoying a somewhat lazy day today.  I slept in and have very little to do besides clean and work on some personal projects.  I did take advantage of my freedom and caught up on some grove business.  It gave me some time to reflect on what Northern Rivers Grove accomplished by offering our Winter Solstice ritual online rather than cancel due to threat of poor weather.    I would have preferred to enjoy a more physical gathering complete with our annual gift exchange and usual, delicious potluck, but doing this enabled us to keep with Isaac Bonewits’ vision of offering public rituals, even broadcasting them.  You can read more about the experience in the link above.  It was amazing to connect with a couple people, including a distance member, from other states.  We’re discussing the possibility of streaming more of our rituals.  Considering that older, more experienced groves (like Three Cranes) are doing it, it makes me really proud of what we are able to accomplish.

As we near the end of the secular year, and enter a new lunar phase at this critical time, I’ve been especially reflective about my spiritual development.  I realize that I’ve put a lot of my energy into transforming my protogrove into a grove, and facilitating as much as possible to keep us active despite some of the challenges we’ve collectively faced.  My personal spirituality started out really strong at the beginning of the year.  I was more actively working on study programs, but between work and motherhood (same old, same old, I know), I found myself putting grove business first to keep it healthy and growing.  I don’t really think that doing so has been detrimental.  It’s actually been extremely helpful in enabling me to develop my understanding of ADF liturgy, group magic, and divination.  Honestly, I think running a grove gives me an edge when it comes to completing certain exit standards in my education within ADF – so the work I put into Northern Rivers does not detract from my studies, but with my other life demands.

My concern is that I’ve let my hearth practice slip.  I’ve continued to keep up with my morning and evening devotionals for the most part.  I have brief lapses due to visiting family, illness, or other disruption to routine, but I’m proud of my discipline for the most part.  I had high hopes that I would really develop my trance skills.  I was for awhile, as documented here on my blog, but then I gradually did less and less.  Why?  Some of it has been laziness.  Why do I spend so much time staring at the abyss that is Facebook?  Some of it is that I’ve been incredibly inspired recently.  I’ve started to write fiction again – something I haven’t done with so much vigor and passion in years.  Of course, with the holidays, I’ve filled much of my remaining spare time with sewing and crocheting gifts.

I need to refine my discipline and rededicate myself to my personal practice.  Maybe an oath with repercussions is in order?  I also realize that I need to strengthen my bonds with Brighid and continue to give offerings of gratitude for all the inspiration she has blessed me with.  I’m envisioning magic to strengthen my creativity, crafting a trance tool that I’ve been dreaming of, and actually getting outside more.  All of these activities will feed my soul, make me a better Druid, and ultimately benefit my grove.

Be it so!

 

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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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This past weekend, I spent a couple days at different beaches along the St. Lawrence River. On Friday, I put my feet in the public beach at Alexandria Bay. On Sunday, I went swimming with friends at Grass Point State Park. It was a fantastic way to spend some of my remaining vacation, especially as it was so hot. Both times, as I stood in the blissfully cool waters and felt the warm sun on my skin, I was reminded of the Two Powers meditation. I remember how I struggled with that once upon a time. Turns out, the more I did it, the better I became at visualization and even sensing the energies flowing through me. Part of my improvement over the years has been through mindfully storing memories.

As I stood in the waters, I did my best to be present at that time, capturing details of the experience for later reference. When the bitter cold winter sets in, I will need memories of summer at the river to help me connect with the cooling waters and warm sun, just as I rely on my winter experiences to supplement my summer meditations on hot, sticky days. As we move into the cooler half of the year, I hope you take some time to reflect on your experiences in places where you connected with the sky and water energies.

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A view of Alexandria Bay and Casino Island. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

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I’ve seen some discussion about what a Druid actually is around the Pagan blogosphere.  Since I call myself one, albeit of the ditzy variety, I thought I should add my two cents for those who are curious.  I want you to know right from the beginning that I understand there is more than one tradition of Druidism.  I don’t necessarily think any one is right – in fact, I’m sure we could all learn from each of them.  Furthermore, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and I encourage your input.  My thoughts on the matter are likely to evolve with time much as your own.

There have been plenty of works dedicated to who the Druids of the past were, or at least who we think they were based on comparative folklore, linguistics, archaeology, second-hand historical documents…  See some examples here and here.    It is hard to discuss modern Druids without touching on ancient Druids because, in my opinion, they are so much a part of it, and indeed my discussion depends heavily on history.  To me, a modern Druid is determined by a few factors: cultural focus, an affinity and concern for nature, self-expression, the search for wisdom, and community.  I’m going to break my discussion up according to each of these factors for the sake of simplicity.  Magic and ritual weaves it together but doesn’t necessarily make Druidism.  Magic and ritual are part of many religions and don’t necessarily distinguish them.  These other factors help differentiate the magic and ritual of a modern Druid.

Cultural Focus

Let me first say that I’m writing this from the perspective of the descendant of Irish diaspora in America.  I have ancestors from the North and South of Ireland.  I am completely aware that I am not nationally Irish.  I am American but, like so many in my country, we celebrate our cultural heritage.  This is a huge aspect of my spirituality.

Cultural focus is one of the more contentious issues in some circles, but like others on this path, I firmly believe that it is central to my Druidism.  The Druids were the priestly caste of the ancient Celts.  Their cultures varied from region to region, but shared many similarities including a language group.  I won’t pretend to speak one of them, but I have studied a little Irish Gaelic and am only starting to grasp its linguistic patterns.  I think trying to better understand the cultures Druidism sprang from is very important.  I tip my hat to those who are fluent in a Celtic tongue, and especially to those diaspora who are involved in cultural centers or academic programs such as Irish studies at Harvard or Boston University.  If you cannot throw yourself into it so wholly, the important thing is to at least try.  Don’t just read about ancient history – learn about modern Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, etc.  See if there are introductory language courses or try out Rosetta Stone Irish.  Learn about your Celtic ancestors – why did they come here?  When did they arrive?  Where did they settle?  How did they integrate into a new culture?  Don’t turn your nose up at the Christian traditions in Celtic nations.  They are very much a part of the culture now and you can learn a lot from its followers if you are open-minded and civil.  In some traditional practices, it is hard to tell where the Pagan ends and the Christian begins!

Most major Druidic traditions are firmly rooted in the cultural.  The Henge of Keltria focuses on an Irish “hearth culture”, OBOD relies heavily on Celtic-influenced bard craft, and many members of ADF follow a Celtic hearth culture of some sort.  ADF is unique among the larger groups in that it encourages members to study and focus on any Indo-European culture.  We have Hellenic Druids, Norse Druids, Roman Druids…  It can seem very strange at first.  To be true, there are days when I think it’s a bit odd, but we know the Celts got around in the Ancient world.  They conquered, were conquered, and blended with other groups.  What were Roman occupied Celts like?  My understanding of Roman and Celtic relations is not the best, but there are examples of seemingly combined Gods, such as a Minerva-Brighid hybrid.  When I consider this, different cultural focuses within a Druidic framework seem possible (if not for me).  And indeed, for many others, they do work.  Part of that is the Druid’s open-mindedness and respect for the Celtic cultures Druidism emerged from.

Celtic cultures appear to have had great respect, even veneration, for their ancestors.  Ancestor worship, if I may use that terminology, was and is common in many religions.  For someone interested in Druidic practices but from a different heritage, perhaps some sort of blend may be appropriate?  And what of the Gods?  We know there were thousands of Celtic Gods – once again this depended on the region.  Only a small collection seemed to overlap although their names and lore change a bit.  There is the potential that traveling Celts would adopt new local deities, perhaps even those of existing cultures in their new home.  Shouldn’t modern Druids have that ability so long as they are respectful and informed?  And of course there is the option of practicing Druidism sans deity.

I do not want to delve into the arguments of cultural appropriation, mixing traditions, or any of that.  I’m only looking at other possibilities for consideration and admitting that I don’t have all the answers.  I simply want to leave you with my belief that entirely removing the cultural focus of Druidism leaves you with… what?  Well, for starters, it leaves you with the other factors that I intend to visit in a moment, but is that a specific tradition with a name or something … new?  Perhaps something else?  I’m not sure.  Goodness knows I have encountered Druids who are not as focused on the cultural.  Far from the disrespectful monster some would accuse such a person of being, he seems like a pretty swell guy who means no disrespect and is simply trying to find his place.  I’m more one to call a spade a spade, and I also feel that a cultural focus helps crystalize a person’s symbolic comprehension, but I recognize that no tradition is directly linked to old Druidism, and playing the cultural police is not my calling.

Nature

I think this facet of Druidism calls more people than any of the others, quite honestly.  The romantic then transcendentalist movement created this archetype that even the more academic Druids find difficult to get away from.  And perhaps that is part of the evolution of Druidism?  Most of our assumptions about Druids, the Ancient Celts, and a respect for nature are simply that – assumptions.  Or, to be more generous, inferences.  There seems to have been knowledge of a connection, a balance…  Beyond that there is little evidence about stewardship and certainly nothing on the level of environmentalism that exists today.

That said, the Ancient Celts, like most Pagan cultures, were animists, and most modern Druids are as well.  Being modern people, we look to science and see that there are serious issues that need to be addressed.  If we believe that nature is imbued with spirit, it only makes sense to try and honor it, preserve it, and live in harmony with it.  A modern Druid doesn’t necessarily have to live off the grid and eat nuts and berries – but he or she should be trying to learn about the natural world and preserve it.  This often combines with our magic and ritual.  Many modern Druids use symbols or tools inspired by nature.  My grove makes a point to worship out of doors, rain or shine.  To connect with the natural world is integral.

Self-Expression

The arts were valued by our Celtic ancestors.  Go to a museum that features their artifacts and you will see beautiful examples of blacksmithing, jewelry making, and carving.  We know from lore that bards were honored.  Many modern Druids express themselves in some way.  We aren’t all artists or bards, but we learn how to integrate our spirituality into our hobbies.  We find it in the physical activities we do, our cooking, our liturgy, or our gardens.  Some may accuse Druids of wearing their spirituality “on their sleeve” in the form of spiraling jewelry, tattoos, long beards, waving hair, or historically-inspired garb.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this.  (In fact, I have a Druidic tattoo.)  Don’t let it stop there, though.  Express your Druidism, but also live it.

Search for Wisdom

The Druids of old were the learned caste – the scholars, healers, judges, advisors, poets, teachers, and scientists.  While a modern Druid doesn’t necessarily have to hold a higher degree (it doesn’t hurt!), those who aspire to the path should be life-long learners.  We shouldn’t stop with the New Age section.  We should delve into history, mythology, anthropology, ethnobotony, and other sciences.  We should learn from our elders and in turn assist those younger than ourselves, but we should be critical and independent thinkers too.  I wouldn’t say I am the perfect scholar, but again – it’s about trying and continually improving.  Druidism is not just about meditation, prayer, or magic – it is also about deep thinking, constructive criticism, discussions, research, and learning how to respectfully disagree.

Community

Finally, I think Druidism is about community.  The Druids of old were part of a society.  Hell, it seems they practically ran it…  It’s important not to have any delusions of grandeur when coming to this path.  History has moved on and most of us live in relatively democratic societies.  There are no kings for us to advise and, in most cases, the rest of society looks at us as curiosities rather than sources of wisdom.  And yet most of us are integrated into communities.  We have families and friends and most Druids I know are very tribal in some ways.  We love our families and our spiritual friends become part of that family.  We form groups called groves that represent the trees we worship in.  (Yes, there are still plenty of us that actually do go out and worship in a dedicated grove of trees!)  We help each other, learn with each other, and grow together.  Outside of our tribes, we are still part of society at large.  We take our talents and share them as doctors, librarians, teachers, farmers, coaches, electricians, artists, performers, soldiers…  Our role in society has changed from one of spiritual authority to one of simply existing along with others and sharing what we can.  Some in the community see us as models for what could be – a more egalitarian, earth-friendly movement.  We shall see.

As of February 2012, this is what I think a modern Druid is.  Maybe my concept will change in a day or a year.  Maybe you will contribute to that change, or maybe my thoughts will impact your own ideas.

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