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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Feet in Clayton, NY

Hubby and I relaxing in the St. Lawrence River, 2011.  Each year, my relationship with the local spirits strengthens. – Photo by Weretoad.

Sometimes, I ponder my path in relation to my location and nationality. There are times when I can’t help but wonder if my Druidism is somehow “less connected” than if I were actually living in Ireland, Scotland, England, Cornwall, etc…  Am I less connected to the Tuatha de Danann who are so intimately intertwined with the land of Ireland?  What of the myriad of other unseen spirits connected to Ireland?  And what of the spirits native to America and living cultures who still work with them?  When I make offerings to the Local Spirits, am I talking to spirits who followed my ancestors from their homeland, the Native spirits who dwell here, or both?

This post from August, particularly the last paragraph, had me thinking about it once more.  Are we, the descendants of Celtic and English diaspora, trying to overcompensate in the form of Celtic Reconstructionism and its methodology?  The seed of ADF was planted in America.  Although it is an international Druidic organization, the girth of its membership continues to be in America.  Compare ADF to OBOD, as John Michael Greer did and you’ll notice some interesting differences.  Having been a member of OBOD for a few months* I came to the conclusion that its rituals were more similar to Wicca, although still very beautiful!  So what does it mean when the biggest Druidic tradition in the UK feels more like Wicca compared to the American-born ADF with it’s reconstructionist methods?  As Greer notes, neither tradition is “real Druidism” as in historically handed down from the ancients.  Similarly, both address different needs and can be combined.  Indeed, some folks on the ADF e-lists were just discussing how they’ve successfully combined ADF and OBOD in their personal lives.

But let’s move beyond the organizations because, when it comes down to it, the bulk of a modern Druid’s time is spent in his or her home and environment.  What about living modern, American Druidism?  You know – connecting to the spirit world in all we do every day.

When you start studying the folk beliefs of the Celts, it becomes clear how location-centered it is.  Well X has a being associated with it.  The spirit of Well X lives in Well X, not Well Z over in America.  At least, so the old beliefs would make it seem.  The Ancient Celts did migrate, and some deities seemed to travel with the tribe.  Peter Berresford Ellis writes, “There are over 400 names of Celtic deities, male and female, recorded but the vast majority would appear to be local deities, tribal gods and goddesses.  However, that leaves some hundred or so who are to be found throughout the Celtic world; indeed, many of the deities are clearly the major deities of the Celts” (160).  What this says to me is that the tribal deities, beings like Lugh, Brighid, and An Dagda, are concerned with humanity and open to communication regardless of location.  My theory has been that, by creating welcoming altars, we create a means of communing – a “spirit phone” or a “guest house”.  But the spirit of Well X?  He or she is only reached at his/her well.  Make a pilgrimage and visit, be inspired by that well’s lore, but otherwise you must find new well spirits in the “New World.”

But who are these American spirits?  Nature Spirits?  Gods?  Demigods?  Nature Spirits elevated to some Godhood status through increase worship thus power?  Are they Native or immigrants like our ancestors?  The answer seems to be, “It’s complicated.”

Arch Druid Emeritis of ADF, Rev. Skip Ellison, presented a workshop called “The Fairy Races of the British Isles” a few years ago in Utica, NY.  He explained the various beings and how to work with them, of course, but he also shared his theory with regards to the question above.  Ellison postulates that some spirits emigrated with the diaspora.  It makes sense if you consider beings attached to tribes or households.  Why wouldn’t they follow the people they have a relationship with?  Ellison suggests they settled where their humans settled.  If so, is there antagonism between those spirits and the Native?  If spirits mate, did they mate with Native spirits?  Is thinking this horrendously disrespectful to Native American cultures?  Add to that the reality that the Ancient Celts would take up worshipping the spirit of the rivers they settled near, what do us modern practitioners do in America?  I feel very drawn to the rivers I live near, particularly the St. Lawrence.  Before their lives and traditions here were disrupted by white settlers, the Iroquois who lived in the North Country called the Thousand Islands “The Great Spirit’s Garden” and considered it a sacred hunting ground (Jacox and Kleinhans, 7).  When I go to honor the spirit of the St. Lawrence, am I disrespecting Native culture?  The Ancient Celts saw rivers as female spirits, and I have felt similarly about the St. Lawrence – but is that just my intellectual assumption or genuine unverified personal gnosis?  It is difficult to find information on Native beliefs surrounding the river.  Did they believe it to have a guardian spirit?  Was it female or male?

Once more, the answers seem complicated, and I suspect my perspective will grow and evolve as I learn and practice more.  Despite the uncertainties, it feels important for me to connect to this land.  My time spent in England, Cornwall, and Ireland was precious.  I felt a deep reawakening, a feeling of ‘coming home’ in some ways, and a connection to the history and my ancestors there.  When I went to Ireland, I could not help but wonder if my ancestors who left it all those years ago for a chance at a new life were looking at her again through my eyes.  When I visited ancient, sacred sites, I felt that I was visiting the oldest and most favored “homes” of the Gods I love.  Yet when I returned to Upstate NY, although the Nature Spirits have their own personality, the Old Gods I strive to honor were still there to listen.

In this month of October, as we move towards Samhain, I am going to explore, research, and reflect on my relationship to the ancestors.  I cannot do that without considering my place as the descendant of the diaspora who came here over a century ago.  Without a doubt, it influences my Druidism.  The question is how?  I hope you’ll join me in my thoughts and discussion.

* I left OBOD because the study program was too expensive for me and, as Greer’s article points out, it’s a huge part of the organization.  There are also fewer groups in America.  Community is important to me, and ADF just has more easily-found groves in the US.  I may look into OBOD down the road when I have more funds, especially because their approach is so beautiful and lyrical.

Ellis, Peter Berresford.  The Celts: A History.  Carroll & Graf Publishers, NY: 2004.
Jacox, Helen P. & Kleinhans Jr., Eugene B.  Thousand Island Park: One Hundred Years, and Then Some.  Valhalla Printing Co, T.I.P., NY: 1975.
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I went to Old Forge Saturday afternoon to celebrate my sister’s birthday.  She wanted to climb Bald Mountain which is a few minutes past that lovely little hamlet.  It’s been a few years since I’ve been there.  The last time was when my husband, Weretoad, proposed to me!  We were excited to return.

Bald Mountain is small.  It’s definitely not one of the 46.  According to this website, it’s 2349 ft.  Bald Mountain only takes an hourish to climb.  There are some steep, very rocky points but you don’t need much climbing experience or gear – just a really good pair of boots or sneakers and a sense of balance.  It’s precisely why I can climb it!  Small as it is, Bald Mountain is beautiful.  When I was there last, I made an offering of gem to An Dagda.  It’s still there, hidden away.  I thanked him for his blessings and made offerings to the Nature Spirits.  My favorite part of being there is sitting on the bare rock and staring off into the distance…

Wild roots – by Grey Catsidhe
A balancing boulder – by Grey Catsidhe
View of the Fulton Chains – by Grey Catsidhe

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Hello everyone!  I’m back from a delightful vacation in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  I went there several years ago – in my later childhood and again in my early teens.  Each time was a bus trip with my sister, parents, and grandparents.  Each time we did some great things – Marine Land (which I no longer have a desire to visit), botanical gardens, butterfly conservatories, etc…  I’ve wanted to go back for some time because I never got to get up close to the waterfalls or wander around the kitschy Clifton Hill district.  I have a vivid childhood memory of our hotel room which overlooked the wax Criminal Hall of Fame.  My sister and I really wanted to check out the various wax museums but because of a combination of time, money, and parental energy, we didn’t get to.  I also wanted to go back so my husband could see the waterfalls – he had never gone.

The weather was very rainy when we visited the Botanical Garden, but we looked around a bit.  There are some beautiful specimens there and the horticultural school keeps the grounds looking like a fancy manor.  We’d definitely like to go back during nicer weather.  I definitely have a greater appreciation for the gardens now that I’m older.

Photo by Weretoad

I also visited the Butterfly Conservatory again.  It was just as magical as before.  It’s definitely a great place to visit on a cold, rainy day as the greenhouse is kept balmy for the variety of tropical plants and butterflies.  Very educational and the butterflies are naturally whimsical!

Photo by Grey Catsidhe

We also stopped at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Sarira Stupa.    They were building this when I was last in Niagara Falls, but I remember seeing some of the large statues and the ornate building.  I remember thinking “wow!” as it was one of the first times I had ever been exposed to another religion.  We only drove by it but I made a point to visit this time around!  The actual stupa contains a museum with Buddhist artifacts.  It’s only opened from June to October, so that will have to wait for another visit.  Still, we enjoyed the courtyard and also went into the temple where we witnessed some of a ceremony.  They were very hospitable but be prepared to remove your shoes.  The shrine was amazing.  I felt a little choked up due to the devotion and positive energy.  It was really a spectacular and inspirational location to visit.

A photo of Guan Yin from the temple complex – by Weretoad.

We wandered around Clifton Hill to indulge in our childhood fantasies.  Weretoad didn’t really know what to expect but was blown away by all the lights, sounds, and over-the-top character.  We went into a mirror maze, ogled the many haunted houses and arcades, visited a wax museum to pose with faux celebrities (and jump in the room full of horror stars), and did something I always wanted to do – visit a Ripley’s Believe it or Not “Odditorium.”   It was strange, that’s for sure, but also very interesting.  We saw quirky things like “hobo art,” a collection of humorous epitaphs, and rice art to things that make most uncomfortable – medieval torture equipment, a taxidermal kitten with two faces, and shrunken heads from South America.  I was particularly interested in artifacts with occult meaning like the various dolls used in magic.

Photo by Grey Catsidhe

Of course, the most magnificent part of Niagara Falls is the world wonder that names the region – the waterfalls themselves.  The American and Horseshoe Falls are some of the most awesome, humbling sights.  The power of nature is truly magnificent.  The city is a lot of fun, but we couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like without the many casinos, themed restaurants, and haunted houses.

A view from behind the falls.  You can really get a sense of the power back there!    Photo by Grey Catsidhe.
The Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.  It was a beautiful day and we caught sight of a double rainbow!  I can’t recall if this was my photo or my husband’s, but it’s a favorite.

Is Niagara Falls worth your time? Definitely. Clifton Hill is very touristy but may be fun if you’d like to indulge in fantasies and see the odd and bizarre.  If you’re looking for something deeper, I recommend visiting the Buddhist temple and exploring the many natural sights – especially the gardens and falls themselves.

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Documentaries About Ireland

Since we’re in Irish heritage month, I’d like to suggest a few documentaries about Ireland for you to check out.  Now, I’m no Irish scholar so some of the information may be out of date, but they still contain some very useful tidbits that are sure to inspire or move you. The links should take you to Netflix (you’ll need to be logged in) or Hulu.  There are others I have yet to see.  I may add to this list in the future.

  • Out of Ireland: Story of Emigration into America– Paul Wagner wrote and directed this documentary about modern Irish history and the tragedies that drove so many to America.  If you’ve never thought about this aspect of Irish/American history, this is a good starting place to get a better sense of where you came from and the history of St. Patrick’s Day in America.  You should feel a sense of pride in your ancestors after watching this – the sacrifices they made.  Many never saw their loved ones or homeland again. It gets pretty good reviews on Netflix, though some wish there were more details.
  • The Historic Pubs of Ireland – This PBS feature follows the author of Angela’s Ashes as he tours some famous pubs in Dublin.  Along the way, you learn bits and bobs about Irish culture and history.  Very fun watch for anyone interested in modern Irish history.  Also great if you’re planning a trip to Ireland.
  • Rick Steves’ Europe: Dublin – A classic PBS show, Rick Steves is a favorite travel guide of mine.  I like watching his series on the Create Channel when I visit my parents.  Weretoad and I watched this episode before going to Dublin last year.  It helped us choose a few destinations.  Check this show out for cultural and historical information.

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My husband and I are on vacation this week.  This time last year, we went to Ireland and I wish we could return this year.  Instead, we’re doing what responsible adults do and are saving money for a home and land.  Despite that, we did want to go on a trip.  We decided to stay close to home and go on a day trip to the Adirondacks*.  My sister and brother-in-law visited and we took them to Tupper Lake, NY to see The Wild Center, a natural history museum dedicated to the Adirondacks and conservation.  This was my third or fourth time to The Wild Center, and I always enjoy it.  It’s fun to see the otters and other animals (this time we got to visit with a kestrel as well!), and I always learn something new.  For example, I was really excited to learn that there are specific fungi that only grow on decaying pine cones!  I also learned that quaking aspens have chlorophyl in their bark and can continue to carry out some photosynthesis in the winter!  Nature never fails to impress!

We took a little hike in Tupper Lake.  Despite our lack of snow only two hours away, it still looks like winter in the Adirondacks!  The locals, on the other hand, know better and lament the poor season.  Many ski slopes, for example, have experienced terrible business.

From Tupper Lake, we made the short drive to Lake Placid.  We only had time to poke around the village, but we did enjoy seeing the lake (frozen over, complete with a sled dog team!) and the snowcapped mountains on the horizon.  Here are some of the photos I took:

Ice sculpture outside the Wild Center.
Probably my favorite photo from the day – lichen growing on a tree.  Look at how large it is!  If you squint, you could almost imagine it’s a Green Man or Horned God because of the branches.  Imagination aside, it was such a welcomed sight of green.
A cairn on the nature trail.
A view of the back of The Wild Center.  You can just make out the solar panels on one of the buildings.  In the center is the pond which is frozen over.  It’s quite the sight in the spring and summer!  Was nice to see it in a different season.
This was inside The Wild Center.    Whether or not reincarnation as imagined by various spiritualities exists, there is still this truth.  I’ve grown to take comfort in this simple reality.  This, to me, is  at the heart of Druidism.   This is certainly something to meditate on!  I just love  the imagery here – the spiral, the stream…  and of course, the question – what did you used to be?  What will you be?
There are many animals in The Wild Center.  Many were rescued and rehabilitated, or, like the kestrel I mentioned, they were born to rehabilitated parents and “behaviorally handicapped” in that they trust humans too much to return to the wild.  I’m not sure what the painted turtles’ stories were, but I loved how relaxed they looked sunbathing on this rock.  It’s hard to see, but there’s a sign near them that reads, “Turtles be warned: human hand may be dangerous.”
Here’s a view from Lake Placid.    I believe that’s Mount Marcy in the distance – the tallest mountain in NY State!  Isn’t it beautiful?

Today we went to my favorite local antique shop. The last time I was there, I saw an old herb cutter and it really caught my fancy.  Since then, I’ve seen other antique herb cutters in magazines and I decided that, if it was still there, I would buy it!

It’s older and needs some cleaning up, but it’s just the thing for chopping up large quantities of herbs!  It has a really earthy energy to it as well and I can’t ignore its very lunar appearance**.  I have a fondness and fascination for older tools.  They are often sturdier than most things you can find in big box stores these days, and reusing something is very sustainable thus very Druidic in my opinion!  Even if I decide it’s too rusty to use with food, it will be a great tool for other herbal workings.

It’s Wednesday now.  My vacation is half over but I’ve already had a great adventure!

 * Day trips aren't just good for the wallet - they are arguably better for the environment than taking a plane to a faraway destination!  I keep reminding myself that so I feel even better.  ;)
** On a very practical level, its shape allows it to fit in a bowl.

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Today, my husband and I went to Quebec to visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Our whole reason for going was to see the temporary exhibit, “Japan: Tradition. Innovation.” We’ve grown up with anime and manga, and are therefore enamored with that country. The exhibit was really well-organized. Basically, the designers included examples of design from the Edo and modern periods – each eras of prosperity – and examined the similarities. I learned a lot – especially about Edo-era robots!

The other exhibit I really enjoyed was dedicated to the Native Americans of the West Coast. I love the art and how animistic their beliefs were/are. I especially enjoyed reading about the shamans and religious beliefs. The ancestors were central to their spiritual practices and it was necessary to give animals the greatest respect. Hunters sang dirges upon killing an animal. There was also the belief that fish shared a similar pool of souls as humans and that, to throw the fish world out of balance, the human world would be impacted. The display actually said they believed schools of fish were tribes of people in the spirit world. There was also great reverence for the cedar trees because of their many uses. I noticed a lot of spiritual similarities between their beliefs and Druidism. Very interesting and moving.

A spiraling image of animals. I can see a raven and what looks like a grizzly bear. (Photo by my husband.)

From Canada

"The ancestors are with us, working..." (Photo by my husband)

From Canada

Shamanic masks (photo by my husband).

From Canada

A statue of a whale (photo by my husband).

From Canada

We also saw a lovely zen garden. (photo by my husband)

From Canada

Parliament building in Ottawa. (photo by my husband)

From Canada

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Some of you may have read that the infamous, contemporary Arthur Pendragon (who apparently likes to think of himself as the king of the Druids), was attempting to take legal action in regards to cremated remains found around Stonehenge.  He argued that removing them from the site was disrespectful and that they would likely be placed in a museum and never returned to their original resting place.

I must admit, I used to have some mixed feelings about placing exhumed bodies in museums.  I saw my first bog body in person in Toronto a few years ago.  I had reservations about photographing the body.  I wasn’t sure what to think of it.  I was less bothered in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, which is strange because the bodies there are often medically rare (oversized colons, bodies turned to soap, unusual deformities, etc).  I felt a little sick to my stomach in front of a wax collection of eye injuries, but I digress…  I suppose it’s because most of those bodies were donated to science.  This past year I visited the National Museum of Ireland’s archaeology collection, which included the largest sample of bog bodies I’d ever seen.  This time I did not feel bothered at all beyond a faint relief that we don’t practice that form of sacrifice anymore*.   Otherwise, the bodies were tastefully laid out in their own private areas.  The exhibit had the feeling of an open-casket wake.  Everyone spoke in hushed tones, there was soft lighting, and you could tell that most people were in deep thought about life, death, decay, and human nature**.

I can get on board with Mr. Pendragon’s concern that bodies in museums should be treated with respect, but we live in an era where the opposite is hardly true.  It’s easy for me to say that about British and Celtic bodies because they are my ancestors.  I cannot speak for other cultures and heritages in regards to their own remains.  I’ve come to see the exhibitions as good things.  As a Pagan, I’m not alone in my sentiments.  Especially as someone who values and wants to continue learning about what my ancestors really did and believed.  Our body of knowledge will grow too slowly, if at all, without good archaeology.

And is exhuming bodies for archaeology really all that disrespectful to Indo-Europeans?  While it’s hard to know for sure, I’ve read about some recent theories surrounding Stonehenge which suggest the people who used it had a belief in an afterlife.  The Celts, when they came to Britain***, definitely believed in a continuation of life.  The lore tells us they believed in Otherworlds and there is evidence that they believed in some sort of soulful transmigration.  I wonder if they would mind archaeologists studying their bones?  So many ancient people were obsessed with immortality and that came when your name and story lived on.  The bodies in museums have visitors everyday.  While many look with a mixture of fear, disgust, and religious bias, I’m sure there are others, like yours truly, who go to honor the ancestors – even if it’s only by learning their stories.

I’m glad Mr. Pendragon’s battle did not get very far.  I think there are bigger battles for modern Pagans to fight.

* Although the constant childish behavior in our government makes me wonder if resurrecting the tradition would be such a bad thing.  (I kid, I kid…)

** Seeing bog bodies in person is really something else.  You should make a point to find an exhibit.  They really make you think…

*** However and whenever that was…  I’m not interested in discussing that here…or even now.  I don’t know enough to have a meaningful dialogue.

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