Reawakening- Reflections on Imbolg

So this winter has been wild. I saw a week or so ago that three cities in Ohio were among the 20 coldest in the US, one of which is our nearest metropolitan center. Early last week, schools and businesses were closing due to the extreme cold, and tonight we’re being told to look for 6-10 inches of snowfall. I don’t know about anyone else, but I definitely feel like the Cailleach has her hands all over us this winter. It has been wild and unpredictable and extreme, yet I do see that coming to an end. It was in the 50’s over this past weekend, I totally felt like Brighid gave us a bit of a respite, a sign that, yes, this winter shall end.

Things have been a bit chaotic in our house, and so we didn’t celebrate Imbolg in any particular way. With having the poultry out at the in-laws, I do try to at least make time for some small rite to ensure their continued health and fertility (that’s my goal for this weekend). We just bought a house (closing next week!) and have been busily packing for our move. That, along with my return to school, E’s busyness at work, and the cabin fever and minor illness that has just lingered through the winter (sniffles, colds, and sinus issues), have just not made for a “good” time for celebrating. Though one could argue that it’s the perfect time to celebrate, we made it through the winter! I’m just not in the mood to be in charge of that celebration, and I think this is a hang-up all solitaries face.

But I have been reflecting on what it means to be pregnant at this time of the year. During my last pregnancy, I spent this time freaking out and going over all of my options (abortion, adoption, carrying to term), and didn’t spend much time thinking about how awesome it is to be pregnant at Imbolg.  We see the first signs of returning life, the first sheep are coming into their milk, soon we can put down our cold weather vegetables, and winter is nearly over! While winter itself is cold, we retreat into the warmth of our homes until we can reemerge into the bright warmth of summer, like a babe emerging from the womb. Due to the circumstances of my son’s birth, it is medically inadvisable for me to carry past my due date. So I know this baby will be here by Earth Day, we will be moved into our new home (hopefully) long before then, and we can take that time to welcome in the fullness of spring and the reawakening of the Earth. But for now, I can feel the baby getting bigger, and I know his time is coming, just like the Earth is awakening and preparing for another year of richness and abundance.

Sovreignty and Marriage- Part I

I had an awesomely vivid dream last night. Nothing supernatural about it, pregnancy just does this to me. But the entirety of the dream involved my husband and I beginning to hike the Appalachian Trail up in Maine. Just us getting stinky, hiking through the woods, along a dried river bed that was muddy in some places and turning to hardpack, then having to swim across a lake to reach the other side of the trail. I remember jumping in the lake and tasting the water, not clear and springlike, but slightly muddy, algae-ish, lakewater. And my husband climbed back out and looked at me and asked “Wouldn’t you rather rent a canoe?”. Then I woke up. It was so awesomely normal, and us, it was a great reprieve from the completely whacked out weather we’ve been experiencing in Ohio lately (it’s 40 degrees today, but was -10 on Monday). But I feel like this dream not only came from my need for some idyllic nature time with my life partner, but from some of the ideas that have been bothering me lately.

One of those ideas has been marriage counseling. Especially, spiritually based marriage counseling. Like, why do we not have this available in the Pagan community? Other than the fact that we have such a diverse collection of religions and beliefs, but why do we not have this within the individual groups? We were married by some awesomely out of the box Christians, and spent a few months right before our wedding with them doing some pre-marital counseling. Then spent a couple months this past summer in marriage counseling with them again. Yeah, the first year of marriage is hard, and it definitely was taking its toll on me. And I was taking it out on E. This was good for us, and especially good that we were able to go to a couple that knew us, and our somewhat unique situation, for advice. They obviously drew their advice and inspiration from their Christian beliefs, but never pulled out a Bible (they’re somewhat anti-Bible people) to back it up. They’re believers of “Do-er” faith, not book faith. This is why we connect. But where are the Pagan equivalents? These are normal people, without degrees, who have training in counseling. Something anyone who was dedicated to offering this service could do.

While most of us don’t have a sacred book, we do have our myths. And a recurring theme in Irish mythology is the importance of the marriage of the king with the land. Definitely not advocating a submission of one partner to the other, I don’t believe at its core that’s what this marriage is about. But the importance of partnership and accountability to the health and fruitfulness of the family/community/land/etc. While the land is often referred to as female, and the king as male, there is an interesting attribute to these myths that one doesn’t usually see in effect in certain other religions. If the king fails in his duty to protect and nurture, the land sickens, and the people depose (or kill) the king. Not advocating killing your husband. But I think it shows the seriousness of of accountability in marriage to your partner, and your family. One person isn’t just declared head, and can do whatever they want, with little to no repercussions. Its a duty to always be encouraging and nurturing everyone else toward fruitfulness, before the self. That is the sacred duty of the king. Who, I feel, need not be the male, or more “masculine”, partner.

Samhain- In Review

I’ve had bits and pieces of this post lying around for the past month, and just now am finding the time to sit down and organize it all. Even starting as early as I did with my planning, Samhain still snuck up on me and I wasn’t totally prepared. Though, honestly, who is? But I would definitely call the celebrations a success.

So here’s how our family observance was going to go: I was going to wake up early and totally scour my house, saining as I went. A and I were going to spend the day listening to traditional and tribal music, make parshells, and go around in costume. Them I was going to cook a lovely dinner, lay out the Feast for the Dead, and eat with the family. After E and A went up to bed, I was going to bust out my drum, and do some meditating before launching into my solitary ritual service. Sounds like a wonderfully laid plan, right?

Here’s what really happened. A spent the previous week adjusting his sleep schedule from waking between 8 and 8:30 to around 6/6:30. I am not a morning person, ever, so waking up early was shot to hell. But we did get up, and what could have been cleaned in about an hour to an hour and a half, took a little over three. I’m convinced toddlers exist to disrupt cleaning. But the house was cleaned, if not sained, and ready for company. We did listen to some music, but then A decided he needed to watch every Thomas the Tank Engine movie ever made, so off went Pandora. We made no parshells, and my attempt at the masks I wanted to make flopped. But hey, the house was clean, and I kept the thought of the Ancestors foremost in my mind that day. I did make a lovely, delicious dinner, and invited the Ancestors in, and laid out leftovers as offerings outside for any Folk about that night. And then I crashed.

I did have the opportunity to attend ritual the next evening with a group that are Celtic/Norse influenced within a Neo-Wiccan/Eclectic framework. I absolutely loved their group dynamic, and the energy flow during the ritual. It began with calling the quarters and such, but there was an altar for the Dead, individual cleansing, deity invitations, and toasting, all of which I practice personally. Attending something like this that is led by a group that obviously has an understanding of the cultures and deities they were working with was a pleasant experience. Near the end, we went around and announced what our New Year’s resolutions were, and within the energy raised and the group focus, it felt binding. Mine is to find discernment and empowerment in the projects I undertake, to not let myself become overwhelmed, to let things flow away that I can’t control or worry over at that moment in time. So far, I’ve felt empowered, but not so discerning, because I still find myself taking on (what I feel to be) too much.

A few days later, I believe it was November 12th, we had our first snowfall of the year, and it was a real snow, not just a super light dusting that was gone by midmorning. I skimmed a bowl full of snow, and once it was filtered and melted, I ended up with about 6oz. of water. At least I now have water for saining.

Samhain II- Noble Ones, Sidhe, and Outsiders

There are some times where I just feel so blessed to live where I live. Even though we have such a small Pagan community, if it even constitutes a community because it seems that NO ONE knows each other, we have so many opportunities before us. We aren’t really imposed upon by long-standing groups that make the community at large feel that they have to be a part of a specific group to be accepted into the Pagan community. And we have so many rural traditions and events, that connection with the land and community through simpler means is readily at hand. Last weekend was the Atwood Fall Festival, one of my all-time favorite craft shows/festivals. And every year, they host the Moccasin Trail Pow Wow. Now I am someone that really has no clue about Native American/First Nations tribes/cultures/practices, so I can’t tell you if its one tribe or many represented there, or which ones. But I love attending for so many reasons. Every time I go, I’m participating in a living culture with oral tradition, which is how most of Celtic Europe was. I love the drumming and dancing, I love feeling the rise and ebb of the group energies. And I love the hand-crafted wares, which sadly are dwindling in favor of mass-market, mass-produced crap. But I was super excited to find some small, hand-crafted hoop drums. I had to have one, and the maker gave me an awesome deal on the one I purchased. I’m still getting to know my drum, but its deep and new and is so beautifully unique. Even though I’m not Native, we can’t move forward assuming any culture existed in a void, and careful actions to bring in new ideas and merging them with our existing cultural/belief system is what keeps spirituality growing and dynamic.

I’ve seen a few discussions on land spirits, do we honor the spirits of the land where our ancestors came from, or do we honor the spirits of land the the original inhabitants of land? I guess this all depends on how you view Land Spirits. For me, Land Spirits are a special kind of spirit, the ones that can exist simultaneously in the Mythic Realm (aka: Otherworlds) and the Physical Realm. While they are a type of Sidhe (aka: fairy folk), the Veil Between Worlds has little to no bearing on them because of their strong associations with the physical Land. While I believe some of these Land Spirits directly/ physically manifest (trees, rivers, rock formations), there are others that act as guardians and wardens (think gruagach, trolls, the Lorax, etc…), and even more are linked to the cyclical changes or temporary states of the land (winter spirits, garden spirits, rain spirits). So with the idea that these spirits live in multiple Realms simultaneously, and if we believe that creating sanctified space in our spiritual/magical work is recreating the World Center symbolically and creating a true liminal space between Realms, I don’t see why the Land Spirits from our Ancestral lands can’t travel to new places. But I also see how the link of time and tradition would hold the original Land Spirits in their same space. So I guess the argument can be made for both types of Spirits to possibly be present. All the more reason to actually explore and connect with the Land around you.

You may be asking, what does any of this have to do with Samhain? The Festival of Samhain centers around Spirits; Ancestral, Land, Noble, cyclical, whatever. Understanding who the Spirits are, how they interact with the Physical Realm, and Their roles in the holiday are crucial for understanding my branch of Celtic theology and properly observing the holiday from that standpoint (ugh, orthopraxy). Now who are the Sidhe? The Sidhe are the spiritual/magical beings that originate from Otherworlds beyond the Veil. They are your Land Spirits, fairies, brownies, trolls, basically any non-human, non-god, and non-animal being. For some, the Veil is no deterrent to traveling between Realms; for others, liminal spaces and/or times are needed, and oftentimes a particular liminal space/time. When you read folktales of creatures that live at crossroads, fly along the edge of twilight, appear out of the mist, or dance along mushroom circles, you are hearing tales of the Sidhe. One of the defining things about Samhain is the thinness of the Veil, and the ease with which Spirits and Sidhe can cross it from the Otherworlds, not that the Veil is gone or the precepts for crossing are gone. Imagine wading across a river; it is significantly easier to cross the river when it is only up to your shins than when it is up to your waist or over your head. The Veil is like this; thin at certain times and in certain places, thicker at others, and sometimes impassible. And another thing a lot of New Agers won’t admit/accept, not all Sidhe (or fairies) are good/friendly/helpful. Sometimes, to us, they are downright evil. This is why costuming and masking at Samhain is practiced, if they don’t know you’re human, chances are the “bad” ones will leave you alone.

So who are these “Noble Ones”? The Noble ones would be the Lords and Ladies of the Sidhe (not gods). I would say most of our archetypal/station-based Spirits are the Noble Ones. The Gatekeeper, the Green Man, even the Earth Mother. These Spirits serve in a particular fashion or role; the Gatekeeper as the watcher of liminal places, the Green Man as the sacred gardener, and the Earth Mother as the foundation of life. Why do I not consider these beings gods (I need to find a better word than “gods” as well)? Because I view them to be many different Spirits that are joined in a common purpose, or possibly hereditary positions. Think of monks or soldiers. I do believe they are individuals, but are so defined and meshed with their station, that the title may as well be their name (think of the Mother Superior in a convent). These Noble Ones, like one hopes the more “noble” humans (presidents, ambassadors, cultural representatives), have a better understanding, and more patience/tolerance, of the different beings in existence than the lower Sidhe. So whole the majority of the Sidhe exist and live by their own laws and customs, regardless of ours, the Noble Ones at the very least understand our customs, and are more willing to work with us in a partnership fashion.

And lastly, the Outsiders. Samhain is as much for them as any other group. Outsiders can be from anywhere, any being. For us, Outsiders are the rejects of society; historically murderers, thieves, beggars, anyone that was not a contributing member of society. Not all Outsiders are necessarily bad though, the Fianna were considered Outsiders. While some of the more delinquent types used Samhain as an excuse to cause mischief, for the poor and hungry, it was a time where they could go to any door and receive food. There were rules for hospitality and proper interaction with Outsiders in medieval Ireland. On the other side, were the Outsiders of the Sidhe. Perhaps not outsiders amongst their own kind, these Spirits would be the less desirable ones to have around human communities. They are they ones we would place offerings for to leave us alone, and the reason we would go around masked.

So far, I’ve discussed the Ancestors, the Sidhe, and Outsiders in regards to Samhain. Next would be the Gods (which I wish there was a better term for), and the pastoral/agricultural aspects of the holiday. Keep counting down, there’s only 21 days left!

Such a Terrible Blogger

I’m such a terrible blogger. I go months and months without posting, it’s awful. But we move on. Busyness has ensued in these past couple of months; leaving one job and starting two others, teaching art (yay!), and entering into the “terrible-twos” stage with our son (judge my parenting skills all you want, but it exists and it sucks).

The garden has suffered majorly; all my radishes went to seed before I managed to pull them, and the spinach bolted pretty early. My husband told me the other day, “You know what we aren’t? Gardeners.” And sadly, I have to agree with him for the moment. Our garden is a mess, things didn’t get planted on time, weeds didn’t get pulled, and this weather just makes me want to stay indoors. I hate mugginess and heat. We had later frosts, and then, BAM!, the summer hit. Drought last year, and lots of rain this year. Bleck! It also doesn’t help that I have to pack up my son and drive to get to my garden.

And these chickens, my goodness how they grew! We never got more than the 17 chicks we purchased back in March, and that’s ok, since there were 10 roosters in that mix. So we’re off to the farm this afternoon to pick the one we want to keep, and the rest will be getting processed July 12th. We had also picked up some cast-off Easter ducks back in May, and found out this week there are 3 drakes and only one hen, so two of those big boys will be off to the processor as well. I’ve dubbed them Thanksgiving and Christmas, so now I have a time frame in which to learn how cook duck. I don’t feel as bad about them, they aren’t friendly like the chickens. But I know what these fowl ate, how they were treated, and I am grateful for the meals they will provide for our family. Anything to lessen our dependence on the food industry and our contributions to inhumanely raised and butchered animals.

Why should I care about what, where, and how my meat is and came from? The more removed people become from their food, the less real food they eat. And the less grateful they are for that food. When people disassociate the feathered, squawking creature with the frozen bag of breasts at Walmart, they lose respect for the life that was given to preserve theirs. And if there is no respect for something, why be sustainable? There will always be more in the freezer. But when you come at it first-hand, there’s an emotional-spiritual obligation to that thing, because you are the one who took the only thing it had, it’s life, for yourself. Are you really going to just throw it out? Wanton killing and destruction; whether of people, livestock, or crops, characterizes many of the most politically tumultuous times in man’s history. It’s a mindset that relegates the killer to more worthwhile being than the victim.

It’s a mindset that I experience with many religious types. The idea that first comes their specific branch of whatever religion, then comes the members of that religion, then comes the rest of the world. The more I hear people speak about the atrocities that are currently being visited upon this religious group by that other religious group, yet with no accountability taken by the first religious group for any ill they have ever committed upon anyone else, the more disgusted with “religion” I become. Why on earth would anyone ever choose to associate their spiritual beliefs with self-righteous, hate-filled people (unless, they too, are self-righteous and hate-filled)? I would like to start exploring and explaining more on what drove me to where I am now, why I don’t join “religious” groups, and how I really am finding true spiritual fullness in the path I am on today.

Religion vs. Spirituality: The Great Debate

So recently I’ve been attending a Christian church on Sundays, and noticed they seem to be stuck in a place right now that most dogmatic religious folk are but few seem to ever want to confront; the questioning of what their spiritual beliefs are versus what their religious mind sets tell them to be. And I have found myself standing there too, though not really too much in recent years. But listening to their dilemma, it forced time to reflect on myself. What can I claim to be without lying to others and myself? My personal spiritual beliefs have undergone a major overhaul within the past couple of years, and I feel like I’ve done pretty good at not fighting against it. But now is the time to reflect back on those changes and what they have done to me. Three years ago, I readily identified as a Celtic Recon, albeit a pretty linguistically challenged one, but is that truly accurate? And as someone who was working through The Dedicant’s Path put out by Ar nDraiocht Fein, how do I reconcile the more religious/structured practices (such as setting up altars, structured rites, chants, etc…) with the personal spirituality that I hold to be the highest form of worship? And how am I to fit my prior hedgecraft practices into my new system? And where does culture, both past and present, fit into the religion-spiritual mix?

Being Thankful… All the Time!

So I realize Thanksgiving was, what, three weeks ago, and I never posted anything about it. But that’s okay, because even though it’s wonderful to set aside a day to give thanks for all that we have and the people we share our lives with, we should be celebrating and honoring all those things and people EVERYDAY. And right now, while we’re right around the half-way point between America’s two largest holidays, let’s take a moment to be thankful for the people we love, and take joy in celebrating our lives with them. I love this time of year; it seems like joy is infectious. But after the New Year is done, we all seem to come down from the Christmas/Thanksgiving high, and go back to being cantankerous old farts. This is one of the reasons I feel personal spiritual practices are so important; when we make time for our own beliefs, we make time to really focus on the things most important to us. Feeling obligated to participate in the same weekly ritual established by someone else doesn’t really force you to reflect on your beliefs, or to grow as a spiritual person. It’s just a mindless droning, which we need sometimes, but it’s stagnant, it lingers, it doesn’t compel us to do mighty things in our lives. But personal spiritual practices are first hard to establish, and then hard to stick too. I’m as bad as anyone when it comes to that, I “let life get in the way”. But life shouldn’t get in the way, our spirituality should get in the way of our lives. We should set out to live our beliefs every day in the things we do, and the way we interact with the world. And when we can do this, when we learn to walk thankfully through each and every day, then we will know bliss.

Happy Holidays, anyone who actually reads this. Whatever holiday you celebrate (we do a secular Christmas, and I am planning for a minor Yuletide).