[sticky entry] Sticky: This Is a Sticky

Apr. 21st, 2013 09:19 am
sophiacatherine: Ruined church, County Cork, Ireland (ruined-church)
My main journal can be found at http://leithincluan.wordpress.com/ .

This is my rambling place - a lot of entries here will be private, with most others friends-only. Here I'll be pondering ADF Dedicant Path work, rambling about personal practice, pondering deities, divination and so on, and generally scribbling thoughts that relate to Paganism in my life. Also probably more everyday stuffs about disability, from EDS to Asperger's, and being a disabled postgrad student, and suchlike.

I copy most of these posts over to livejournal, where I have the same username, but I don't really interact over there.
sophiacatherine: (Default)
The excellent [personal profile] finch is holding an Inspiration Birdcage on the theme of 'Leap of Faith'. Go request short fiction or a verse of poetry on a theme! (Finch's writing is *amazing*.)
sophiacatherine: Ruined church, County Cork, Ireland (ruined-church)
There's been a lot of talk of privilege online recently. No one's talking about what, in my humble opinion, is one of the biggest forms of privilege in online Paganism. Forgive me if I rant about privilege for a little bit. I'm not trying to be mean to anyone, or to put anyone's back up. I'm trying to say what it feels like to be non-American in internet-based greater Pagandom.

Most Gaelic/Celtic recon is, if we're really honest, very North American. (I suspect that most recon in general is very American.) It's not even just Irish-in-diaspora -- it's Irish-in-American-diaspora. This makes a lot of it seem very odd to me as Anglo-Irish, and no doubt it seems even more alien to people who are home-grown Irish. Here are just a few things that I find entirely alien in American Gaelic polytheism:

- A non-land-focused approach. My CR/GP is about the land. Well, lands, plural, really. It could never put mythology before land.
- A highly literalist approach that elevates myth to the position of a bible. (Medieval myth. That was written by Christians.) That's incredibly American, and (in my opinion) quite alien to many Europeans.
- An approach that tries to unify pre-Christian Ireland into one country, and (even worse) tries to unify pre-Christian Irish belief into one set of beliefs. That's so far from the evidence, it's ridiculous. Yet I get shouted down if I argue that, no, we cannot be sure whether ancient Gaels believed they were going to Tech Duinn or Manannan's realm, because the question is utterly nonsensical to start with.
- A majority of believers who have never been to Ireland or Britain, but who don't acknowledge that there are therefore some things they will see VERY differently to people in Ireland and Britain.
- An approach that privileges academia over mysticism in a way that doesn't work for me at all. I'm very academic. I want my religion to be rooted in good scholarship. But there are other things besides academia.

The path that feels most Brythonic to me (although definitely not Gaelic) is modern British druidry. The 'British' qualifier is necessary because British druidry is TOTALLY different from US druidry - something that is rarely acknowledged over on the other side of the pond. (I'm always being told what druidry is like. The assertions usually come from a place where the speaker is familiar with exactly one kind of druidry - ADF druidry. That is by no means the only kind of druidry out there. OBOD is *much* bigger than ADF, if we're just playing a numbers game. But still the assertions are made, using terminology that comes from Americans and based in situations that I don't recognise.) British druidry is incredibly flexible and fluid. It is NOT 'mesopagan' or whatever Isaac Bonewitz called it (presumably without having met many British druids), but it's nothing like American neopagan druidry. It is very Pagan, but it's very uniquely *British Pagan*. Modern British druidry is becoming its own thing, its own tradition almost - a new generation that has followed *after* revival druidry, rooted in it, but going in entirely different, entirely new directions. It is often very Brythonic, with a peculiarly British kind of polytheism that defies theistic definitions, but which ultimately doesn't have to be about the gods (and often isn't), because these are gods who emerge from the land, and you can believe in the land (and have relationship with it) without worrying about your theology. A lot of this is what I sort of imagine the Brythonic tribespeople were like - especially the non-priests among them. Ironic that a very real-life hearth-and-land spirituality has emerged from something called 'druidry', but it strikes me that that's what it is for most practitioners. A few are on more of a priestly path, but only with the constant consent of their community. It is very non-hierarchical, very modern Pagan, very British.

Druidry is my larger community. But I'm not sure if I can call myself a modern druid. Not yet, anyway. Partly that's because of the misconceptions the term engenders, but that's not the only reason. But that would be another journal entry entirely. The point is that I'm looking for a Gaelic path that works with this modern Brythonic one. And I'm not sure the answer is American-style Gaelic reconstructionism. So what is it?

Could there ever be a European form of Gaelic reconstructionism? What would it look like?

sophiacatherine: (Default)
Ronald Hutton (2001). The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This history of the neopagan witchcraft movement, as a major part of the modern Pagan movement,  is a fascinating, comprehensive and very readable book. Given its academic provenance, I expected the style of this book to be dry or difficult, but in fact it was very engaging as it related the history of the witchcraft revival from Gerald Gardner onwards. I have already read several books on the history of the neopagan movement, including Margot Adler's 'Drawing Down the Moon', but my reading in this area has largely focused on druidry and other non-Wiccan sections of the movement, due to my own religious interests. I therefore decided to read this classic, in order to better understand Wicca's role in the wider modern Pagan movement.

The first part of the book explores the background to the creation of Wicca. Hutton begins by outlining the influence of the Romantic movement and other cultural trends in laying the ground for neopagan revivals. These included Victorian constructs of 'nature' and 'paganism', theosophy and spiritualism, and the creation of the triple goddess and horned god figure (based on a conglomeration of pre- and post-Christian deity archetypes and concepts) that would later be adopted by Wicca. Hutton discusses the sources for all these ideas in detail, which was fascinating for me - as a sociologist, I'm very interested in the cultural and social precursors to new movements, especially religious ones. The strong influence of Robert Graves and a few other key figures was strongly emphasised. It was fascinating to see how a few individuals had such a lasting effect. Sadly, it was also interesting to see the ongoing effect of dated (or poor) scholarship through these individuals.

Hutton then explores the history of the groups that influenced Wicca, including Freemasonry and the Golden Dawn. I was amazed to see how many Wiccan 'staples' are rooted in these groups, such as the Masons' naming of their work "The Craft", the structure of their initiation ceremonies, their focus on lineage, their claim to date back to ancient societies, and even some groups' use of the phrases "Merry meet" and "So mote it be" (neither of which are ancient). Similarly, Hutton's descriptions of the magic of the Golden Dawn make it clear how strongly rooted is Wiccan practice in that kind of ceremonial magic. Some examples are the Golden Dawn's use of the four (or five) elements, and their use and exploration of the symbol of the pentagram, and its use of a female image of divinity. This is linked forward into the influence of Theosophy and spiritualism on the modern Pagan movement: reincarnation and other Eastern philosophical ideas entered modern Paganism via this source. The role of cunning folk in developing a 'low magic' is also explored. Well-known local healers and practitioners of folk magic are discussed, showing how they themselves were influenced by developments in ceremonial magic. Hutton then talks about Frazer, Graves, Margaret Murray, and a few other individuals who were influenced by these trends, and who in turn strongly influenced Gardner. Murray's witch cult myth, in particular, was a founding myth and source for Wicca. I was a little sad to read evidence that the Green Man and other enigmatic church carvings are not pre-Christian, and that our interpretation of them is very modern - but it was good to be set straight about that!

The second part of the book looks at the creation of Wicca by Gardner. Much of Gardner's founding myth of Wicca is entirely debunked. Gardner claimed to have been initiated into a coven that is likely never to have existed. Gardener seems to have selected a random member of his local community and claimed her as the high priestess who initiated him, when in fact it seems unlikely that they ever met. Hutton traces Gardner's initial attempts to revive the OTO in Britain, and, following this failure, to create his own new religion influenced by Theosophy, Freemasonry, the Golden Dawn, Graves, Frazer, and Murray's witch cult myth. From here, Hutton outlines the development of Wicca, including the very strong role that Doreen Valiente played in its founding. Hutton then discusses the reaction to the new religion, including the Satanic panics from the 1950s to 1970s, which appear to have been rooted in media sensationalism and fiction novels. More recent developments that influenced the growth of Wicca are also explored, including the (now largely out-of-date) theory of the 'great mother goddess' of the ancient middle east, and work that forwarded Murray's witch cult concept - until that, too, was debunked.

Hutton ends by discussing recent developments in Wicca and the modern eclectic Paganism that has grown out of it. 'Traditional' witchcraft is examined, as a parallel, reactionary tradition created as an answer to Gardner's Wicca. The influence of creators of traditions based on Gardner's, including Alex Sanders' 'Alexandrian' tradition, is also considered, as is the trend of hedgewitchery, solitary witchcraft and eclectic Paganism. Finally, Hutton discusses developments in the USA, where witchcraft became a politically-active, environmentally-conscious and feminist tradition, largely through the influential Starhawk and her writing.

Hutton generally considers that no survivals from pre-Christian belief can be found in modern magical or Pagan traditions, and this is a theme that recurs throughout his books. Other historians disagree, to some extent. However, it is clear that Wicca, and the modern Paganism that grew out of it, is an entirely modern religion. This book serves a valuable purpose in showing the many modern influences that prepared the ground for its invention by Gardner. It's an absolute treasure, and more modern Pagans should read it to understand where our religions have emerged from in the modern world.
sophiacatherine: Tree (tree)
Samhain, or Oí­che Shamhna in modern Irish, was probably one of the four major festivals that marked the beginning of the seasons - or Quarter Days* - in pre-Christian Ireland (Mac Cana 1968, Monaghan 2004).  The importance of this festival can be seen in the way many mythical events take place at this time (Mac Cana 1968). In more recent folklore it was a pastoral festival, when pigs were killed and cows were brought down to winter pastures (Monaghan 2004) and when It was a time of chaos, when the barries between this world and the Otherworld were less pronounced, and spirits roamed free (Mac Cana 1968) - the Irish roots of 'trick or treating', including pranks and the making and wearing of masks (Danaher 1972), can be seen as relating to the same chaotic atmosphere. It was a time of feasting, possibly related to the end of the harvest and the slaughter of animals, and of divination (Danaher 1972).

Three groups of Kindred seem to be celebrated in the surviving and recent lore around Samhain. Firstly, the festival is clearly related to the dead and the ancestors (Mac Cana 1968). Danaher (1972) describes how, in Limerick, a candle was left in the window for deceased relatives, or lanterns were lit on graves. The suggestion is that the dead may want to return on Samhain Eve, and thus a light is left to light their way home. (This tradition of a candle in the window may have shifted to Christmas - today some Irish people still leave a candle in the window on Christmas Eve, for Mary and Joseph). The tradition of leaving offerings of some kind for the ancestors, sometimes called a 'dumb supper', reflects a belief that it is not only malevolent spirits who are abroad on Samhain Eve (Monaghan 2004). However, this appears to have been a fear-filled feast, as well as a celebratory one.

Secondly, the Aes Sí, or fairies, who roamed and could steal humans at this time, for which reason people would keep away from fairy mounds on Samhain (Monaghan 2004, Danaher 1972). Danaher writes "It was called púca night and oiche na sprideanna (spirit night) because of the old people's belief that both the fairies and the ghosts of the dead were active then" (Danaher 1972 p.200). The púca was a fairy who was believed to spit on blackberries and other fruit, in parts of Ireland, and so fruit was not picked or eaten after Samhain (Danaher 1972).  Crosses, such as the rowan cross or the Parshall cross, were hung in the house to keep away malevolent spirits, along with the use of oats and salt as protective materials, and the protective power of the Samhain fire (Danaher 1972). Food offerings were left out for the Aes Sí, although Danaher (1972) notes that not everyone knew who the offerings were left for. These offerings may have been propitiatory.

There is a third group of Kindred that Irish-hearth ADF members might celebrate at this time: the gods and goddesses commemorated in Irish mythology. As Mac Cana writes, "the Celts have treated the festival of Samhain - the duration of its celebration and more especially the eve of the feast day - as a time apart which was charged with a peculiar preternatural energy, and within it they have concentrated many of their great mythic events" (1968 p.127). A number of key mythic events in Irish myth take place on Samhain, including the Battle of Mag Tuired, before which the Dagda mates with the Morrigan. These two deities, therefore, may be celebrated at Samhain. Equally, there are myths of the Cailleach, particularly in her Scottish form, that involve her rulership of this time of year. Mac Cana (1968) describes how Samhain is a time of chaos, with the order of the world dissolving before it is re-made. I relate this closely to the Cailleach. She is associated with the last sheaf of the harvest (Danaher 1972, Monaghan 2004). In Scotland, winter storms were associated with her (Monaghan 2004), and her traditional rulership of the dark half of the year may derive from a very early tradition of the birth of the winter sun's daughter as an old woman, who then grows ever younger until spring (Monaghan 2004).

I celebrate Samhain by honouring the ancestors, the Aes Sí, and the Morrigan and Cailleach Bheara. I make and hang crosses of rowan wood and create other protective charms, and I leave offerings for the ancestors. I also do divination using tarot, Ogham and more traditional methods.


*It is a little confusing that modern neopagans refer to these days as cross-quarter festivals, and call the solstices and equinoxes the quarter festivals. I prefer to use the traditional terms that were applied in Ireland, but I acknowledge the different usage of the term in ADF.


References

Danaher, Kevin. The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs. Cork: Mercier Press, 1972
Monaghan, Patricia. Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. New York: Checkmark Books, 2004.
Mac Cana, Proinsias. Celtic Mythology. London: Chancellor Press, 1968.


sophiacatherine: Forest road (forestroad)
I've been stuck on this essay for a while, so I'm drafting some thoughts here, based on questions from Michael Dangler's 'Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year' book. I haven't been following this book slavishly, but I find some of the exercises helpful for drafting. So here we go: personal religion, ADF, and me...
 
The ADF Dedicant Path rubric requests an essay that should contain "A brief account of the efforts of the Dedicant to develop and explore a personal (or Grove-centred) spiritual practice, drawn from a specific culture or combination of cultures."
 
First, I should note that, until recently when I moved away, my grove-based practice was centred around an OBOD grove. This meant that, in practice, I was doing very different things with my grove from my solitary practice. OBOD groves are not usually focused on one pantheon, although in Britain they tend to work mainly with Brythonic, Welsh and Irish deities, as gods of the local land. My grove celebrated various deities at different times of the year - the Cailleach at Samhain and Brighid at Imbolc, for example. However, most of my grove's practice was not deity-focused, but instead was very land-focused, working with the seasons and their manifestation in the local landscape. Essentially, our focus as a grove was on the land spirits. As a result, I was able to work quite separately with my grove vs my hearth culture, as there was no real contradiction between pantheons, and the spiritual focus of each was different. In contrast, my personal practice is polytheistic, focused on a Gaelic hearth culture.  
 
Some pictures of my hearth shrine, as it has developed over the past year during my Dedicant Path studies:
 
 
Currently I have a primary hearth shrine, where the ADF symbols of Fire, Well and Tree are represented, and where several deities are also represented. I also have some individual shrines to some deities, including a shrine to Brighid in the kitchen, as the modern equivalent of the central hearth. Each morning I light a candle at the shrine and say a prayer, modified, from the Carmina Gadelica, along with the Genealogy of Brighid and other prayers to Brighid as hearth goddess. The original prayer reads:
 
I will kindle my fire this morning
In presence of the holy angels of heaven,
In presence of Ariel of the loveliest form,
In presence of Uriel of the myriad charms,
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

God, kindle Thou in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbour,
To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,
To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the Name that is highest of all.
 
I have modified the prayer for Pagan use, based on material by the Gaelic reconstructionist group Gaol Naofa. I will not reproduce their version of the prayer in this essay, for copyright reasons, but it replaces the references to the angels and Mary with references to the land spirits and the gods, and it modernises many of the other references. I have developed my own version of this prayer, also referencing my ancestors and the specific gods that I honour. On days when I am short on time, this 'kindling of the hearth' and prayer may be my only devotional act, but I try to ensure that I always at least do that. I also say 'smooring' prayers to various deities in the evening at this hearth shrine. On mornings where I have more time, at least three times a week, I also spend about half an hour at the main shrine, located in my office, giving offerings using an ADF-based framework which includes acknowledging the Fire, Well and Tree, asking a Gatekeeper to open the Gates, and - most importantly - making offerings to the gods and spirits.
 
During these nearly-daily rituals, prayers said at my shrine will include modified prayers from the Carmina Gadelica and prayers that I have written myself. I have a prayer shawl, made for me by a friend who belongs to the UK's Druid Network, which I only wear at my main shrine and which I often use to cover my head, to acknowledge the power and worthiness of the gods of my household. I am not particularly good at meditation, but these short rituals are often followed by visualizations and seership work involving the gods to whom I have made offerings. The five months of 'mental training' that is required as part of the Dedicant Path have proved very helpful here - this seership work has become a much more regular part of my shrine rituals, and has led to closer interactions with many of my household deities.
 
I use ADF's core symbols in different ways. I find the Fire/Well/Tree symbols very powerful, and they are represented on my main shrine. I think of them in relation to the Three Realms, land, sea and sky, which is the key triad around which my spirituality is based. I am less comfortable with the ADF concept of the Three Worlds, which feels more Norse than Celtic, and I am not able to relate to the 'world tree' as part of this. Neither do I visualise Three Gates - instead, when calling on a Gatekeeper, I use a Gaelic image of 'raising the mists', rather than using a specific gate metaphor. It is important to me that my symbology, while rooted in ADF, is also coherent in relation to Gaelic mythology and Gaelic reconstructionist practice. I have considered all of ADF's core symbolism and tried it out, attempting to relate it to my Gaelic hearth culture, and I have kept the symbols and metaphors that are a good fit with that hearth culture.
 
Michael Dangler's book asks how Dedicants have chosen their hearth culture. For me, this did not really feel like a choice - it was fairly inevitable. I have considered my practice Gaelic reconstructionist-influenced since well before I joined ADF. My family is from Cork, in the west of Ireland, and I grew up familiar with that area's landscape, myths and, later, its gods. About three years ago, I began honouring several gods with whom I had previously had interactions, and that number has grown to about seven deities that I honour on a daily basis, as well as others who are honoured on appropriate seasonal occasions. Currently, my household gods are Brighid (as primary hearth goddess), Manannan mac Lir, Macha, the Morrigan, and Cailleach Bhearra (who is not the same as the 'Cailleach archetype' that is often referred to as 'the Cailleach'). I also have a student-patron* relationship with Ogma, as a god of words and scholarship. I also honour Lugh, who has a small separate shrine. I am not sure how permanent some of these relationships will be. For example, the Morrigan is primarily 'active' for me during the times around Samhain and Beltane, but not very present on other occasions. It may become the case that I honour her seasonally, rather than daily. Manannan mac Lir was the first deity with whom I had any interaction, and my relationship with him is a kind of 'mentoring' one. In contrast, I have a closer and more constant relationship with Bhearra, as a goddess of my ancestors.
 
Since joining ADF, I have also made a particular effort to work with local deities of the land. When I live in Nottingham, I worked with Trisantona, goddess of the River Trent, as the local land goddess (possibly equivalent to ADF's concept of the Earth Mother in this area). Discovering her name involved doing some historical research and developing some UPG based on seership work. I gave her offerings at the river on several occasions, and regularly honoured her from my shrine to the spirits of land, sea and sky. I have now moved to London, and I am working on developing relationships with the deities of my local rivers and streams - Dollis Brook, the Silk Stream, and the larger river, the Brent. There is some evidence that the Brent may be named for Brigantia. I intend to do some ongoing work at the Brent to find out whether this is the case (in my UPG), and how I can best honour her and the spirits of the other local rivers.
 
My personal religion also involves honouring the ancestors and working with local land spirits and aes sidhe, but I discuss these practices in other essays. I have an ancestor shrine, and a small separate shrine to the spirits of land, sea and sky.
 
I never undertook a First Oath during my Dedicant Path, as it did not seem right for me to do. However, I have taken other oaths this year, solemnizing my relationships with several deities. At the end of the Dedicant Path, my Dedicant Oath will involve me solemnizing my membership of ADF and my commitment to this path, with my household deities invited to observe and (hopefully) approve the oath.
 
The essay rubric hints at the need to discuss the way that my religion has developed since joining ADF and beginning the Dedicant Path. Primarily, it has become more of a constant in my life. My offerings are more regular and I am more committed to my Pagan path than I was before. I observe every High Day with a full ADF ritual, which has allowed me to develop a stronger relationship with my local landscape, its seasonal changes, and deities of the land. I have recently been working with High Day rituals that have been written by another Gaelic reconstructionist member of ADF, who has been kind enough to share them with the rest of the membership - these have slightly modified the ADF ritual framework so that it fits better with Gaelic reconstructionist approaches. I hope to be able to write my own, similarly Gaelic-influenced rituals when I have worked with those of more experienced members for a while. I have also found that the Dedicant Path has supported me in my worship of my gods, since a Gaelic hearth culture fits very well with the ADF structure. Again, the structure needs slight modification to fit with the reconstructionist approach. However, when it comes to Gaelic reconstructionism, the modifications can be small, because of the strong Indo-European scholarship and symbolism behind ADF's rituals, which have also informed Gaelic reconstructionism.
 
*I do not use the term 'patron' in the same way as ADF. I do not relate well to the modern Pagan concept of patron deities. I use the term instead to describe the relationship between a deity of an occupation, and someone who follows that occupation. I see it as student-mentor type of deity relationship. Instead of talking about patrons in the neopagan way, I talk about 'household gods'. This seems to fit better with a Gaelic, hearth-focused personal religion.
sophiacatherine: A sign to Tir na nOg (25 km away if you swim) (Tir na nOg sign)
So it's getting towards that time when I need to start organizing and writing up what I've done over the last year (which is mostly scribbled in various journals at the moment), so that I can submit it as my ADF Dedicant Path documentation. So expect a few more of these essays to start appearing here, as I organize my work into real essays, with references and everything. (Currently this one is much too long - planning to edit later!)

Autumn Equinox

Modern neopagans have celebrated the Autumn Equinox since Gerald Gardner created the eightfold Wiccan Wheel of the Year, with the help of Ross Nichols (Hutton). Wiccans and some Pagans today call this festival 'Mabon', which is a name that Wiccan priest Aiden Kelly gave to the festival in honour of a Brythonic god (Ravenheart and Ravenheart 227). It is also called 'Harvest Home' by many Wiccans, while to OBOD druids, it is Alban Elfed, which means 'The Light of the Water' (OBOD). It is the second harvest festival of three that Wiccans celebrate (Nichols). Wiccan traditions relating to the festival include making corn dollies in honour of John Barleycorn and celebrating the harvest (Nicols). Revival druidry also celebrates the harvest at this time, but it is additionally focused on the balance of light and dark at the Equinox (OBOD). In contrast, in the Wiccan solar cycle of the Horned God, covens celebrate the decline of the God and the descent of the Goddess into the Underworld at this time, which draws on the myths of Persephone and Inanna (Grimassi).

Although the Gaelic people in Ireland and Scotland only celebrated the four Quarter Days, and not the equinoxes, there is still relevant folklore that I can use to help in my celebration of this High Day, in a way that is meaningful within my Gaelic hearth culture. In particular, in Scotland and Ireland, Là Fhèill Mìcheil (St Michael's Day) was celebrated at about this time of year, as has been documented by Carmichael, Campbell and Danaher. Carmichael relates St Michael to the sea, which may suggest he is a modern incarnation of an older Gaelic sea-god, and says he also has connections with horses for Gaelic culture (Carmichael). St Michael's Day is also to some extent connected with the harvest - in Scotland, a cake called 'struan Micheil' was baked on St Michael's Day, which was made of all the cereals grown in the field that year (Carmichael Kindle loc. 2800). Other folklorists also find evidence of a focus on autumn in early (if post-Christian) Gaelic culture - Campbell says that in the Scottish Highlands, autumn was called Fogharadh, and he argues that it is related to the words for 'hospitality' and 'abundance' (Campbell Kindle loc. 2511) . Campbell represents St Michael's Day as a celebration of the first-fruits of the harvest. He also writes of a potential link with the Cailleach, as harvest goddess, describing a dance dedicated to her called called 'Cailleach an Dudain' (Campbell Kindle loc. 2952). Campbell describes a number of other customs of this feast day, including a great horse race that took place in Barra at Michaelmas, where each woman in attendance brings a large bannock-cake to the race day (Campbell Kindle loc. 3145-3148), which may again suggest a harvest theme. Over the past few years, I have taken this theme of harvest and abundance for my own celebrations of the Autumn High Day, focusing on the fulfillment of the harvest.

Seren of Tairis argues that these St Michael's Day customs are likely to have shifted from Lúnasa, in a post-Christian environment, as a response to the new ecclesiastical holidays (Seren). While I can see the argument for this, it does seem that some communities marked the harvest at this time. While I do not think that the Autumn Equinox was ever widely celebrated in pre-Christian Gaelic cultures, I think that there are customs that can be drawn on by Gaelic hearth members of ADF, in order to mark this High Day in a meaningful way. For me, as a dedicant of Cailleach Bhearra and Manannan, the customs relating to the Cailleach as harvest goddess and to the sea spirits are very interesting, and I have drawn on these by honouring Bhearra and Manannan in my Autumn High Day rite, as well as Macha (although my celebration of her at this time is based on UPG). On a future Autumn High Day, I would like to go down to the sea and make an offering of an effigy to the sea spirits, as was done with a Christian theme in Scotland on St Michael's Day in the past. While it's not clear whether this is any kind of pagan 'survival', it is an old Gaelic custom that I would like to fit into my celebrations of this High Day in some way.

Works Cited

Campbell, J. G. Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. AlbaCraft Publishing, 2012 [1902]. Kindle Edition.
Carmichael, A. Carmina Gadelica Volume I: Hymns and Incantations. Amazon Media, 2011 [1928]. Kindle Edition.
Danaher, K. The Year in Ireland. Dublin, Mercier, 1972.
Grimassi, R. Encyclopedia of Wicca and Witchcraft. St Paul, MI, Llewellyn, 2000.
Hutton, R. The Triumph of the Moon. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999.
Nicols, M. The Witches' Sabbats. Portland, OR, Acorn Guild Press, 2011. Kindle Edition.
OBOD, "Autumn Equinox - Alban Elfed". Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, 2013 <http://www.druidry.org/druid-way/teaching-and-practice/druid-festivals/autumn-equinox-alban-elfed>.
Seren, "Là Fhèill Mìcheil". Tairis.co.uk, 2010 <http://www.tairis.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=140:la-fheill-micheil&catid=38:festivals&Itemid=1>.
Zell-Ravenheart, O. and Zell-Ravenheart, M.G. Creating Circles & Ceremonies: Rituals for All Seasons and Reasons. Franklin Lakes, NJ, Career Press, 2006.
sophiacatherine: (Default)
It's that time again - another High Day. I don't know how they come around so fast. Anyway, I'm leading a ritual with my OBOD grove and I need to do my ADF rite and write the Lá Lúnasa/Lughnasadh essay, so I've been doing a bit of reading. Decided to draft my Lá Lúnasa essay here, before I improve it a bit for the ADF DP documents. 

There's some interesting research about Lughnasadh. One of the best books on the subject of Irish festivals, from a reconstructionist perspective, is 'The Year in Ireland' (1972), which talks about the folk traditions of hill gatherings, harvest fairs, games of agility, strength and skill, and some wonderfully fun references to dunking cattle and sheep in water. Ronald Hutton (1991, p.??)* argues that Lughnasadh is the only Irish festival where a pre-Christian survival is fairly likely, thanks to Máire MacNeill's comprehensive study 'The Festival of Lughnasa', (Hutton 1991, MacNeill 1962). MacNeill argues that pre-Christian customs may have included meals of harvest fare, bull sacrifices, renditions of the story of Lugh's triumph over Balor, and bonfires and visits to holy wells (MacNeill, 1962, p.426). Cunliffe (1997, p.185) also asserts that a celebration of Lugh was central to Lughnasadh, but Hutton (1991, p.??) focuses more closely on the harvest and first-fruits aspects of the festival.

Of course, while interesting, not all of this relates to the way that modern neo-Pagans celebrate Lughnasadh, which is part of what ADF wants us to write about. Drawing from the scholarship, it's possible to see the inspiration that modern Pagans, polytheists and reconstructionists have taken from earlier reports of Lughnasadh celebrations: common modern themes are harvest, celebrations of Lugh's triumph over Balor (and/or the myth of his foster mother Tailtiu), and sometimes games of skill. At this point, Wiccans are celebrating Lammas, sometimes including the stage in the god-cycle where the god begins to decline, while revivalist druids tend to be focusing on the harvest cycle and the cutting down of the corn, which probably has echoes in British folklore. [NB: Referencing of these points will happen when I can find the books that I read that said these things...!] However, the diversity of the neo-Pagan movement, with its many paths (e.g. Adler, 1979), means that there is a wide variety of ways in which each of these festivals is celebrated by neo-Pagans today (where it is at all). I personally like to focus on harvest and on the stories of Lugh (both the myth of Tailtiu and the story of his defeat of Balor). I'll be organizing the Lughnasadh ritual for my OBOD grove, which will focus on the metaphorical harvest of crafts, stories and triumphs that members of the grove will bring to the event. In my personal celebration of Lá Lúnasa, along with my own COoR rite, I will honour Lugh with an offering of my skills.


References
Adler, Margot (1979), Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America. New York City: Viking Press.
Danaher, Kevin (1972), The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs. Dublin and Cork: Mercia Press.
Hutton, Ronald (1991), The Pagan Religions of the British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford: Blackwell.
MacNeill, Máire (1962), The Festival of Lughnasa. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


*I have lent this book to a friend, so I won't be able to verify this or give a page number until I write the final essay. I'm fairly sure that's what he says, though!
sophiacatherine: Ogham (ogham)
It seems fairly clear that I don't actually have time to post here, as I had hoped I would, because of everything from my other blog to my ADF work (not to mention my dodgy health). But I will try to link here occasionally when my other blog has practical stuff in it. Today I posted about my ongoing Ogham work, here.
sophiacatherine: (Default)
The reason for my recent silence is illness. It got COLD, my body gave up, and I'm taking two months off university. Well, I will be as soon as I've handed in the stats assignment I'm currently working on. Which is nearly done, thank all the gods (and several saints. Catherine of Alexandria, patron of scholars, is the main reason I keep going with any of this!)

ION, I'm doing some spellwork in relation to an upcoming referral. I hate doctors and I'm scared about this referral. Will probably come back to that one later. Need to have the appointment and finish the spellwork first.

I'm getting very interested in hoodoo - have been for a couple of years, but I'm starting to take it seriously now. It feels like I may be engaging in some cultural appropriation there, and that worries me a little - I'm not quite sure how to deal with that, and in an ideal world I'd be able to unearth some Gaelic folk magic in the myths and folklore (but any work on that is a lifelong project). But hoodoo is very effective magic for me, not least because it doesn't draw on my (extremely limited) energy as much as some of the revival druidry-style magic I do otherwise. And because folk magic chimes far more with the way I think than magic with ceremonial roots. I'm reading two books on Druid magic at the moment that are deeply ceremonially inspired (one is revival druidry, one is reform, but they both draw on the ceremonial stuff). And that just doesn't work with my worldview. Magic is not somehow above us - it is not a higher power or from a different realm. It's all around us, as much as the Otherworld is. It's in every herb and root in the soil; it's on every street corner of of the urban landscape; it's in every charged particle of the air and every drop of the river and every grain of sand on every beach in the world.

A few other things: ADF work continues, and I'm blogging for the Solitary Druid Fellowship (Teo Bishop's new project). I passed my OBOD Bardic Grade (my tutor loved my creative review - I did a lot of painting). I'm getting along *much* better with the ADF Dedicant Path than I was with OBOD's course, although of course nothing is perfect, and I continue to work on research in as close to a 'recon' way as I can. I have a project on the Ogham that I need to start; I have lots of reading to do on Indo-European stuff for ADF; and I want to do some (scholarly) research on Cailleach Bhearra and Arianrhod. So, this should be a quiet 'time off'...

And now, stats. Followed by pancakes.
sophiacatherine: (firetree)
Lighting My Candle has been a great place for me to start exploring my Pagan religion and spirituality, but I've been wanting to set up a Druidry journal recently, and I took the plunge a few weeks ago. You can now find my more regular blogging at Leithin Cluan (it probably needs a more imaginative name than just my Druidry name, but hey ho). I'll still be putting randomness and unpolished thoughts up here, I'm sure.
sophiacatherine: Forest road (forestroad)
I've finished the OBOD Bardic course. I currently have no time to reflect on it, but I will make time soon, because I need to write my review of the course. I'm thinking prose poetry with some of my photographs of the attached at the right points. I may be writing this at five in the morning on a few days, because I have a lot to do in the next few weeks, including baking cookie gifts for the members of my grove, making some Solstice cards (painting little scenes), and doing some writing. And I've started the ADF Dedicant Path (and it is wonderful. I feel like I'm home). Plus, y'know, there's the PhD to do. But I got a podcast episode out! So that should tide some people over until after the holidays.

My ancestor work continues - I haven't managed to do 12 consecutive days, as migraines and similar have led to a few days off here and there, but I will have done 12 days of ancestor meditations in total by the end of it. It's been transformative. I'll be writing about it at my new Druidry blog soon, by request from my Druid priest and a few friends.*

All I've really done for ADF work so far is to find a small tealight lantern to represent fire, and to dedicate an old mini cauldron for the well. I'm still looking for a tree representation, although I've found something online that may work. A glass of branches from my garden is serving as the tree for now. The fire/tree/well imagery really works for me, which is great. I didn't expect it to.

*Yes, I have too many blogs now. But I'm thinking that, as my general spiritual writing will be happening a lot at the website that I'm going to be contributing to, and as I'm mostly set on a Druid path now, it's time to get more specific. I'll keep Lighting My Candle open, in case the 'general spiritual writing' mood strikes me.
sophiacatherine: Tarot cards (tarot)
Inspired by Ali Leigh Lilly's post on using the tarot for writing, I've been starting to work with tarot for academic writing. This was an experiment. While for fiction writers this month is NaNoWriMo, for academic types it's AcWriMo - academic writing month. I don't know any crazy person who's aiming for 50,000 words in academic writing (since that will be a bit less than the length of my entire thesis), but I wanted to have a go at making good progress on a chapter that I've had difficulty starting. And then I heard about Ali's approach, which seemed worth a try.

I wasn't sure whether a similar use of the tarot for academic writing could work. I looked into a few techniques - most are based on fiction writing, such as using them to create character development, which is nice, but not particularly relevant to my chapter on the history of illness and healing in Christian churches. (I mean, I could use the Emperor to represent Martin Luther, but if the ensuing spread suggests he gives up on the church reformation thing and becomes a Hindu, then we're into fictional rather than research territory.) The ones that recommend meditation on the card followed by free writing seemed to have potential, so I tried that. Instead of providing specific guidance for my writing, it has given me a kind of theme for how to approach the writing day. Some days this has been more motivational, other days more directional. It's certainly interesting.

Amusingly, on the first day I tried this, I drew the Fool - the beginning of the journey. In meditation I came up with the concept of starting with a clean slate, so I did - and going into writing with no expectations or plans (just for that day) was very positive for my work. Day two, and I drew the Seven of Pentacles, which I interpreted in terms of magical work - which gave me inspiration to continue, as well as the idea that I had already done a lot of the work and was at the 'harvesting' point, which was useful. On my third day of trying this, I drew the Nine of Swords - and it was a particularly difficult day, but with a possible new direction (albeit an extremely unexpected and challenging one) occurring to me by the end.

I don't think tarot can tell the future, and I don't know how much I'd invest in a reading from another person, but I do find it useful for getting in touch with my subconscious mind and spiritual side. I also think the gods can use any divination system they care to - although I don't have quite enough hubris to believe that the gods are interested in my work (although Ogma seems to appreciate my need to do excellent research). I find academic writing really, really hard, and anything that can help me work with what I'm doing on a more symbolic level is a good idea. I'm usually lost in enormous mind-maps, plans with far too much detail, and confusing reams of notes that I don't remember writing from books that I don't remember reading. But, as my work with NLP has shown me over the past few years, the brain is a much more useful organ than we usually allow it to be. I'm going to think about other ways to use symbols to help my brain drag itself out of the Bog of Pointless Notes and the Slough of Over-Detailed Chapter Plans. It needs rescuing.

Divination is generally starting to interest me more recently. I use it a lot to talk to my deities, but not in any particularly skilled way. I mainly use the DruidCraft tarot - the only deck that resonates with me - and (less often) the Druid animal oracle, although occasionally my pendulum also comes in handy (but I'm not particularly skilled with it). I would like to learn Ogham - I've been working through John Michael Greer's 'Druid Magic Handbook' recently, where he talks about the Ogham in some detail, and I've been finding the concept of Druid sigil magic an interesting one. I use sigil magic occasionally and would like to create a system for it that works better for me personally. The chaos magic approach of creating a sigil based on each working is fine, but doesn't particularly resonate with me. I know ADF has done some work on creating Druid sigils, although I haven't explored that in any detail. Since I'm almost certain that I'm not moving on the Ovate grade after I finish the OBOD Bardic grade (at least not for the moment), I won't be doing the year+ of divination skill-building that my grove mates will be doing when they move on to Ovate*, so I'd like to start some more dedicated study of divination systems in a self-directed way soon. Just as soon as I get past the Bardic grade and  work out what I actually am doing next - ADF, BDO, or entirely self-directed stuff. Ah, decisions.

And talking of divination, it's Druid Coffee Club today and that's the theme. I'm off to dig out my cards. Happy Sunday, all.

*There are several of us who are about to move on from the Bardic grade - it just sort of worked out that way.
sophiacatherine: (firetree)
Three parts - meditation, offerings, affirmations.

We don't know if we can continue to use the grove that the group has been meeting in for dozens of years. We gave offerings in thanks to the spirits who have hosted us there for a long time.

Anonymous cards for each other. Mine: "You are strong enough to walk your own path."

Highly appropriate, when I don't feel like I even know where to start looking for it (although 'hold things in balance' is the advice that keeps turning up). The card is going on the altar so I can contemplate it in this more think-y half of the year.

It's been a really bad week of frustrating doctor's appointments and not feeling well enough to do the enormous piles of work that just keep growing. I'm not really in a spiritual mood - at all. But tonight I want to try dedicating the dark half of the year to Bui, giving my about-once-yearly offering to Aengus mac Og and Boann, and starting to bring the Morrigan back into my consciousness (I have red wine and whiskey for her) before I honour her in a major way at Samhain. I think that's enough not-at-all-reconstructionist-enough offerings for one Equinox!

I promised a fellow polytheist an offering to Lugh on his behalf, and I keep getting flashes of things that Lugh would appreciate, but I want to give him his own ritual. Soon.
sophiacatherine: Sea view (sea)
 I'm determined not to neglect this lovely shiny new journal, but I've been having one of *those* weeks. I'm fairly sure I'm anaemic (happens about once every eighteen months and my wonky body doesn't deal with it very well - I have EDS). But I've had no time to get to the doctor's - between attempting to write a thesis chapter, preparing for teaching starting next week, and doing stuff for my other job too. I will go on Monday (or my lovely wife might actually kill me). I might have to give up and take a day or two off soon, which will mean I look flaky in all three jobs. Ouch.

So I've had no real time for spiritual stuff, although I always do something at the shrine every day. It's occurred me to that my OBOD work has been seriously lacking since I did the fire ritual a few weeks ago (and promptly did nothing at all ritual-related with fire, although I have been having a general fiery time recently). I haven't been to any grove meetings for a couple of months, through a mix of circumstances, but there's an Autumn Equinox ritual coming up next week, and I'm again feeling that need to *choose a path* that I put aside for a while recently. My grove is full of the most wonderful people, but it's not my kind of Druidry (anymore), and I don't know how to broach that with them. I think they'll be fine with it, and there certainly won't be anyone demanding that I leave, but being relatively new to these things - well, it's scary and challenging to stake your claim to your own self-sovereignty with people who've been practising for decades. Oh, and then there's decisions to be made for the next directions. I think ADF is calling, but if I rush into that like I did with OBOD, I might regret a too-quick decision. And I want some time around and after Samhain to work on hearth-based ritual of my own, anyway.

Other stuff... I'm ridiculously excited about the return of my TV shows. When I'm reading all. day. long, it's challenging to come home and read some more, as much as I do want to do religious research. I really love coming home to Fringe or Community (both of which I think are short final seasons this year, but with any luck there'll be some promising replacement shows). The wife and I have been so happy that Doctor Who is back. The episodes have been sort-of-OK - we're hoping for a decent one tonight.

Right, must go and attend to garden and three cats before I have to go back to work.

Ireland

Sep. 16th, 2012 09:02 am
sophiacatherine: A stone circle with a waterfall behind it - County Cork, Ireland (stonecirclewaterfall)
Thought it was worth linking here to the write-up of my recent Ireland trip that I just started for my blog. It looks like it's going to take a series of posts to cover it all.

It being a public blog, I don't want to say too much over there about the spiritual experiences I had, but I'll try to say something here about those, when I've written it all up other there. It's all incredibly hard to put into words, as ever. It's good discipline to try, though.

Funny.

Sep. 15th, 2012 06:51 pm
sophiacatherine: (Default)
It's mildly amusing that I spent the morning creating a new journal here, and then spent the afternoon updating my old one (see this latest post). I think I was bashed over the head by a couple of goddesses. They certainly wouldn't let me stop writing until I had finished. (At one point I thought 'I should really go and meditate on this', at which point I was strongly informed that the offering and the transformation were in the writing.)

I'm not the world's greatest writer, and it takes me a lot of time and effort. I think that both of those things might be why Brighid, Ogma and some other deities demand the sheer hard work (and blood and sweat and literal tears) that goes into the transformative experience of writing. I'm never going to be able to dedicate a marathon to any of them. Maybe one day I can dedicate a book. Failing that, at least a few more blog posts.
sophiacatherine: A sign to Tir na nOg (25 km away if you swim) (Tir na nOg sign)
I'm not really new on dreamwidth, but my fandom journal fell into disuse (a few years ago now). Still, I remembered dreamwidth when I wanted to set up an online journal. I have lots of places where I write about spiritual things, including my (paper) Druidry journal and my blog (not very often updated). I need somewhere where I might be inclined to write more often - things happen that disappear into the ether, thanks to my ridiculously poor memory. One discipline that I've kept up since the beginning of my Pagan spiritual journey, a couple of years ago, is taking photos - but they need commentary that I forget to add.

So here I am. I'm a Celtic polytheist (mainly Gaelic), a neo-Druid-in-training (exact flavour of Druidry currently undecided), and I've been Pagan for a bit less than a couple of years. I still have Christian influences in my spiritual awareness (including Celtic Christianity and Gnosticism) - although I'm mainly focused on the Paganism at the moment, and haven't decided whether, or to what extent, to include elements of Christianity. I'll work it out, one of these days.

In the 'rest' of my life, I'm a PhD student in the fields of sociology of religion and disability studies, and I also teach sociology. I've been involved in disability rights campaigning for about eighteen years, although I'm not particularly active with that at the moment, between the PhD and trying to get my head around a (fairly) new religious path. I'm married to my Girl and we have four furbabies (but the Girl calls them cats and hamster. She's heartless).

Online, I post at The Cauldron and UK Pagan messageboards. I co-host a podcast called Divine Community - we don't have time to produce it very often, but we enjoy it when we do. I'm on twitter as SophiaCandle - I'm there a fair bit. (Occasionally I have time for an offline life, too!)

I'll write an actual post with real content shortly.

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Naomi J./Sophia Catherine

July 2014

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