An Update

My last post here was 6 months ago, so I figured I ought to drop in with an update.

Just before my last post, I graduated from University, which was the last piece of the puzzle that needed to fall into place before my husband and I could move to New Zealand. So everything after that was a bit of a whirlwind. We arrived here in NZ in early September, and everything since then has been just trying to get settled, find a job, feel normal again.

Finally some of those goals are being achieved and my life is getting a rhythm again. With the recent opening of the Polytheist Community Forum I’m getting the writing bug again for this subject, and so I hope to be around more often.

The only post I have in my drafts right now is a guide on how to use Mendely, which I hope to have completed in the next week. After that, I’m going to keep plugging away at the 30 Days of Deity Devotion. I obviously dropped off the Pagan Blog Project wagon and I don’t intend to pick it back up or do this year’s instead. Hopefully I can find material for new posts nevertheless!

Day 9: Common Mistakes About This Deity

Oh boy, it’s been about 6 months since I touched this project. My last semester of university was really rough and so I just kinda dropped off the face of the internet. I’ll be dropping off again here in about a month as I move to another country, but until then I feel I ought to write a bit!

The biggest mistake people make with Lugh is the same one many deities of Celtic cultures suffer from: pigeonholing. I continuously refer back to this quote from Marie-Louise Sjoestedt:

“…we seek for a cosmos and find chaos. A mixture of races, human and divine, a multitude of ill-defined mythological figures, whose activities are not clearly differentiated, share amongst themselves or contend for a land which we can hardly recognize as ours, a world which is indeed our world but pregnant with many “otherworlds.””

To look for a specific god of love or the sun or war is to try to impose the framework of other religions on the Celtic cultures. And it often just doesn’t work. The Morrigan, for example, often gets called the Irish goddess of war – but to call her that is to not only exclude every other warrior-related deity (a lot of them) but also to erase her other associations, some of which are extremely important like sovereignty.

This is a particular problem with Lugh, because He’s the many-skilled god. To reduce Him to a single aspect is to exclude every other thing He’s associated with of which there are a lot.

One of the things I most frequently see people boil Lugh down to is a warrior. He absolutely is, and most of the stories we have of Him focus on that aspect, but He is so much more. I think people are making a big mistake when they only approach Him as a warrior.

I’m not going to talk about the sun god thing because I had a whoooole separate post on that. I mean yes, given that He’s a god of every skill, there are a lot of sun-related things you can associate Him with! Some of those for me are: the light of knowledge, the heat of a summer sun ripening the fields, the sweat of a job well done. But to call Him the “Irish Sun God” is not accurate at all.

I think that’s all I’m really going to say on this post. Most of the mistakes I can think of come from the same root problem. Join me for Day 10, Offerings! When will I get to it? Who can say!

D is for Divination

I was going to write about Death for this week, but I chickened out, haha, so instead let’s talk about divination! Namely, the usage of divination in my own practice.

Personally, when I use divination, I am speaking to the gods, spirits or ancestors (or rather, asking to speak to them). While I understand that secular divination is something that people practice, it’s not something I do intentionally. The closest I get is things like a just-for-fun card draw I did the other day on tumblr where I did not specifically ask Anyone to answer these questions. So if I didn’t ask, who was answering? To be honest, I’m more inclined to say “no one” rather than something like “the universe,” but that’s a discussion for another day. The point of this all is that when I perform divination seriously, it’s for communication between myself and the dé ocus an dé, but there are obviously different ways to do this.

The first thing I use is Tarot cards. This used to be my most-used mode of divination, but I’ve been backing off of it for a lot of reasons. For one, it obviously doesn’t fit in a traditional Gaelic framework, which can obviously cause issues. For example, a lot of the cards and their meanings revolve around things like love, sex and romance. Which caused some funny misunderstandings when I used to use them to talk to Lugh in particular. It was at the same time that lots of stuff about godspousing was going around on tumblr and I may or may not have mistaken the readings I was getting for certain kinds of proposition. Luckily I just kinda went “Uh, no” and moved on with my life, but it wasn’t until later looking back that I realized those messages were likely completely unintentional. So always keep in mind that using a kind of communication or divination that the entity you’re working with or honoring might not be familiar with leaves you both open to all sorts of misinterpretations. These days, the biggest thing I use tarot for is to confirm other kinds of divination, but I’ve also used it for spirits that I feel may not be Gaelic. I use the Shadowscapes deck, which I also feel is far more open to intuition than straight book meanings, which I think agrees with me more anyway.

Another thing I have used is a pendulum, but there are obvious limitations and issues with that. The first thing to note is of course the ideomotor phenomenon. A lot of people will say that yes this is a thing but it could be spirits/the divine/whatever working through you to produce that motion – and that absolutely could be! But it’s pretty impossible to be sure. The other limitation is that you only have so many potential answers. Mine will just answer yes/no/other (the other being a catch-all for ‘I don’t know’ ‘I can’t tell you’ ‘I don’t feel like telling you’ or whatever) for example, although I know others have really complicated boards for pendulum answers. But so like Tarot, most of what I use my pendulum for is confirming other things.

Image by Allec

The third thing, and the thing I’m trying to use more now, is Ogham staves. The biggest obstacle to this is of course the sheer volume of misinformation regarding ogham as the ~Celtic Tree Alphabet~ and such thanks to our dear friend Robert Graves …

My Ogham staves, crafted on Samhain

Anyway, moving on. I would really love to get my hands on A Guide to Ogam by Damian McManus, but of course it’s out of print. I tried emailing the publisher to see about any planned reprints, but I never got an answer. So I make do with what resources I can get access to online and a fair bit of intuition. At this point I just do single stick draws, but in the future when I have a better grasp on meanings I would like to try expanding the readings to tossing them and reading the formation and such. I also think making a large Finn’s Window and throwing stones or sticks on it might be another way to perform divination with Ogham. Much of this is speculation, of course, but I would far rather rely on Ogham than tarot for communication with Gaelic gods, spirits and ancestors.

The final form of divination I do (and really should do more of) is the simple observation of omens. Some of this is in regard to specific things on specific days (like performing Frìth or divination by wind), but other things are more spontaneous like bird augury.

There are a number of other smaller things described in things like The Year in Ireland by Kevin Danaher, and in Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland that I would like to start paying more attention to as well.

I think that’s about it for this week. I have “elements” written down but … I’m not sure what I meant by that. Probably the four elements as opposed to the three realms thing… yeah that sounds logical. That’s probably what I’ll write about. I expect it to be a short one, though, just some musings. So see you then!

D is for Devotion

This week I’m talking about devotion, but it’s taking a different turn than I expected.

Originally I was going to take it as an opportunity to gush some more about Lugh, but instead I would like to shift the focus to talking about what devotion is and some other things surrounding that.

Many newbie pagans emerge blinking into the world of their newfound religion and have one very pressing question on the tips of their tongues.

“What god should I devote to?”

And to be honest I was no different. I wrote a bit about this in my last post so I wont retell the story. Instead, I’m trying to figure out what it is that causes that search. It’s probably different for everyone, but I think a potential unifying factor is a need to feel special. And I don’t mean that in the more derogatory ‘special snowflake’ way. It’s just that many pagans come to these religions as teenagers or early adults when they’re still looking for themselves. They’re looking for an individuality, an identity, and many think that having a personal, devotional relationship with a deity will help that.

I’m not really here to critique that search beyond some cautionary words about making rash decisions, but I would like to point out some of the differing kinds of “devotion” that exist within some pagan religions.

First of all, I think devotion can be divided into two categories. There is the act of performing devotion to someone or something, and there is the state of being devoted to someone or something. The difference between these is that one is a temporary, individual action and one is a continued state of being. They aren’t mutually exclusive, of course. You would probably perform regular devotions to an entity that you are also devoted to. But not everything you perform devotions for necessarily required a promise of continued devotion.

To use myself and the deities I interact with regularly as examples, I am devoted to Lugh. I swore that devotion to Him at Beltain last year, and again at Lughnasa. The state of being devoted to Him, for me, includes making regular offerings to Him and performing other regular tasks. Brighid, on the other hand, is a goddess I have not sworn devotion to. However, I do perform devotional actions for her often. For example, I will occasionally devote cooking or writing to her and I usually include her in my morning prayers. There is not an ongoing arrangement or expectation for this, it is simply what I do when I feel like I should.

Both of these relationships are extremely fulfilling, neither is superior, and I think it would really benefit newbies to slow down and consider what they are looking for and why before leaping in to these long arrangements. To be totally frank and honest, I think I devoted to Lugh too soon. I absolutely do not regret it and wouldn’t change our relationship for anything – but I can see all the ways now that it could have gone badly. I had interacted with Him for only 3 months before I swore a ‘temporary’ devotion, and that’s not nearly long enough to get to know Someone. If I had to do it all over again, I would have waited a year at least. Afterall, is He going anywhere? No. Was I? No. There was no rush beyond my own impatience and I hope some of my readers will take my advice when I say don’t jump into sworn devotion too quickly.

Wedding Rings photo from sxc.hu

In addition, it has been the experience of many polytheists that you do not choose a god. If they desire a devotional relationship from you, they’ll come knocking. Imagine if someone walked up to you on the street and said “I’m going to marry you.” Wouldn’t that be weird? You would think someone would bother to get to know you before jumping into a big commitment like that, and how rude to not even ask, just to tell you! Same deal with deities and sworn devotion, I think. You should have a mutual working relationship and an understanding of each other before something like that is asked or given.

And it won’t always be someone you expect, either. If I had been asked to describe a deity I would like to be devoted to, I would probably have mentioned associations like cats, the moon, gardening, writing . . . The Lord of All Skills probably wouldn’t have even been on my radar, that just seems a bit overwhelming. But He made the call and I answered.

I also consider oaths to be different from sworn devotion – but others may consider them to be the same thing. Swearing devotion, to me, is more of a promise of what you will give, prayers, offerings, etc., whereas I think oaths tend to be similar but also have more specific and stringent guidelines regarding action. For example, the guidelines of my devotion to Lugh are actually fairly vague – but I might choose to take more specific and more binding oaths in the future. In fact, I plan on it. I have been given more and more instructions lately that I feel are building up to something important. If only I could figure out what half of it meant… (anyway, moving on)

I think another thing people overlook is that any of these things – devotional acts, sworn devotion, oaths – can be given either to a singular entity or to multiples. You might, for example, preform devotional work for a group of deities or an entire pantheon. I have devoted crafts before the the Gods, Spirits and Ancestors in their entirety. So that might be a solution to those who seek a relationship, or a target to dedicate their work to. Instead of picking a name off a list of deities, do your work in honor of many. I would even argue that you can devote to things like your family or community as well.

Another really important thing to remember is that not every deity who shows up is asking for eternal devotion. Sometimes they just want to hang out, or they have one specific message. And then they go back to doing their own thing and you go back to doing yours.  I made the mistake of thinking a goddess who came into my life briefly last year was looking for this kind of relationship, and I became pretty distraught when I wasn’t getting any feelings from her anymore. I felt lost and abandoned, but really I was just being clingy. She came by to help me with one thing, she never hinted at a deeper relationship.

This post changed a lot between planning it to when I actually wrote it, and from starting writing it to the end of writing it. So I apologize that it’s a bit disjointed. The tl;dr of it, though, is that sworn devotion or oaths are big deals and should not be undertaken lightly – neither can they really be forced. But there are a lot of other options if you just want a fulfilling relationship!

 

[added] I would like to add two things here that I neglected to make clear in the first incarnation of this post. The first thing is that I absolutely do not advocate non-consensual devotional relationships. I firmly believe that if a deity chooses you, you have every right to say no. I think that such a decision should be as carefully decided on as saying yes, but I believe the choice is there.  The second of these is that I think I implied that you absolutely cannot choose and approach a deity of your own accord. That was a mistake of phrasing, rather I feel that approaching a deity out of the blue and immediately seeking a devotional relationship is unwise. Both of these corrections reflect my belief that devotion is a two-way street. Both involved – deity and devotee – need to be in agreement. This is really what I meant about the “you do not choose a god” business. More accurate would be ‘even if you choose a god, They must also choose you.’

C is for Cats

 

Another short post this  week as I’m still pretty overloaded with starting school, but I am not skipping this subject two weeks in a row!  (Besides, it’s the last week for C – when else would I do it? F for Felines? L for Little shits that live in your house? Okay that one’s not a bad idea.)

Let’s just start this off with wow I really love cats. I’m a definite cat person. I like dogs too, but if I had to pick one …… sorry puppies.

This is my friend’s cat, Gatsby. I got to catsit for a few days and brought my big Canon camera for the express purpose of taking pictures of him. I have a problem.

When I was beginning paganism, I was very caught up with the idea that I needed to find a patron god and goddess. (explanation of why this is My affection for cats very quickly led to the possibility of having Bast as my patron. Unfortuantely, though, my understanding of her was largely based on ecelectic wiccan books that equated her with the moon and gentleness and stuff. (Actual information on Bast, also this one) Our relationship never got off the ground, probably because of these misunderstandings – it’s hard to have a relationship with a misinformed idea of a deity instead of the actual deity, haha. I didn’t actually feel connection to any deity again for many years (and then Lugh happened).

Obviously this did not change my love of cats (which later expanded to include lions), but I did stop looking for ways to associate them with my spirituality.

Recently, though, a friend on a forum brought up the interesting subject of cats in Gaelic lore, and also who one might pray to for the health of their cat. The the fire kindled anew, I went looking for cats!

What I found was quite interesting. Foremost in the legends I found were those regarding the King of Cats. This is considered a British figure, but the two Gaelic stories I read regarding that particular figure are Seanchan the Bard and the King of the Cats and also When the King of the Cats Came to King Connal’s Dominion.

Another figure brought up was the Cat Sith – under which the King of Cats is actually categorized on Wikipedia.

Someone in the same forum also mentioned Owynagat “the cave of the cats,” which is associated with The Morrígan.

The conclusion I came to on reading through these tales, though, was that cats were regarded as having their own little societies. In one of the tales, there is even mention of the cats swearing by the gods. So I think that who might look over a cat would depend on the cat – just as it would depend on the person. Who can say if they are our gods, though, or specific cat gods?

I do think, though, that Flidais’ potential associations with domestic animals means that she probably does some looking after our fuzzy friends. However, a lot of people look at cats and dogs as family members, and so some have mentioned that you might be better off praying to whoever you ask to watch over your family.

I really meant to do some more research with this post rather than rehashing what I already found, but it’s already very late on Friday and I’m just finding the same things all over again.

Instead, I would like to direct you all to this page for the conservation of the Scottish Wildcat! Cat conservation is something near and dear to my heart, and it’s estimated that there is under 400 of these beauties left in the wild – some estimates run as low as 100.

C is for Confidence

This week was meant to be about cats, but that will (hopefully) be next week instead.

I started school again this week and things have just been too hectic to pull together all the material I want to, so I think it would just be better waiting. This post will be very short this week instead, and not much fun. Feel free to skip it!

~

The past week or two have been rough on me mentally. I get into cycles of self-doubt, of image issues, of anxiety issues, of depression issues and a lot of other issues. I know I’m not alone in struggles like this, but as a Gaelic Polytheist, these issues present a particular problem.

The Gaelic peoples were not a particularly humble lot, from what I can gather. Boasting in particular was highly encouraged, and pride was a virtue. People who follow GP-type religions today don’t usually do bowing or kneeling or anything along those lines. It’s just not something that’s expected.

A saying I saw recently in someone’s signature was “If you approach the gods with the attitude of ‘I am not worthy,’ they will tell you to come back when you are,” and I think that nicely sums up the sentiments expressed by this group. It’s expected that you approach the gods with confidence

But this means that when I drop that, when I lose my confidence, I feel like I’ve lost everything. 

This week isn’t the first time this has happened, and I’m afraid it wont be the last. And I really can’t help but think sometimes that I really should just drop it all. Pack everything away, maybe read the literature and admire the figures … but not touch them. Because if I can’t even get myself out of bed to face the world, how can I expect to stand before them?

To be sure, if I received signs indicating that the gods wanted me to clear off, I’d be gone in an instant. But no such sign has come to me yet. Instead, I have to believe that this will pass as it has before.

But it sure won’t go without a fight.

One of the biggest blocks to getting over these periods, for me, is that when all of these horrible feelings build up inside me, I stop my daily rites. I stop prayers, offerings, everything. Sometimes it’s because I can’t get out of bed, but sometimes it’s because I don’t feel like I can or should. I’ll go a week or two without touching the altar. So how do you come back after that? It’s hard. When you drop everything and run away, it’s a lot easier to just keep going than it is to crawl back and scrape the mess off the floor where you dropped it and keep going.

So I’m trying not to drop everything this time. I’m just trying to keep going, to keep praying, to make the offerings and stay somehow optimistic that these things will pass. And what I’m finding is that this effort on my part does actually help restore that confidence. Imbolc is coming up here in just a few days, and I think I’ll be able to do ritual alright. I may not be able to do as many things as I’d planned, I think it will be small and close and warm … and that’ll be nice. I’m really looking forward to being able to leave the jacket that I sewed a charm into (to help with these very things) outside to ask Brighid’s blessing on it.

I do apologize for the rambling mess of a post this week. I was tempted not to post at all, but again I’m trying not to drop everything and run away. I want to persevere, and part of that means cranking out a blog post for the week.

I hope you’ll join me next week for a bit of talking about cats! It should be considerably more entertaining.

B is for Brighid

“Lá Fhéile Bríde is a very appropriate time to dedicate to writing or performing poetry in general, especially praise-poetry for Brighid and other liturgy. Whereas most of the other festivals involve travel and feasting with large groups of friends and extended family, Lá Fhéile Bríde is often the festival which focuses the most on the hearth and home, and quiet activities with one’s household or local community.”

With Imbolc just around the corner, I felt that this post would be an appropriate time to talk about Brighid. I’m not going to write up a big informative post about her because there are lots of those out there, I just want to ramble about things because she has a large place in my life, and that’s a place I only see getting bigger with time.

To be clear, the deity I honor most frequently in my practice is Lugh, hands down. I am devoted to Him and there are things I do regularly in honor of that. But out of the rest of the gods, the one I honor most frequently is Brighid. I first approached her to ask for her help in something, but honoring her became a natural part of my practice and it never felt right to stop.

I’m always hesitant to talk about my experiences with deities, because things start crossing into UPG areas that I don’t feel comfortable advertising. But at the same time I think it’s necessary, or at least beneficial. This is because the way some people approach deity in the pagan spaces on the internet makes me uncomfortable. It’s the way some people talk about, and interact with, deities as if they were no more than psychic pets rather than gods.  I see it most often on Tumblr, but I’m sure other places get it too, and I guess what bothers me is that I’m seeing it more frequently. I think that new pagans are coming in to the communities and are seeing this attitude and then adopting it. And it’s hardly surprising because that approach seems so much more “exciting” and involved compared to the more quiet devotion that I think is more common – and that approach is probably talked about a lot more, so newbies see it everywhere.  But it’s not an approach I can connect to, and it makes my skin crawl when I see others behaving that way. But since I am neither these practitioners nor their gods, it’s not my place to say anything to them about it. Instead, all I can do is add my voice and my experiences to the mix.

Alright, with that bit of rambling out of the way (maybe this post should be B is for Babbling instead) let’s get back to Brighid.

Our relationship, right now, is one based on quiet acknowledgement rather than regular devotion and tasks. The first time I approached Brighid, it was in her capacity as a healer. I had been struggling with my health, and was looking for help. I had a charm planned to make, and planned to ask for Lugh’s help, but others suggested Brighid as well.

The response I got was overwhelming. The charm I worked was successful, if not in the way I expected, and I am eternally grateful for her help. It’s easy for me to see why she has so many followers from all different walks of life. The feeling I get from her is warm and caring … but I can feel the hard edges as well, a fury reserved for those that hurt what she cares for.  I feel that her most-appreciated offerings are dairy products – but local, whole ones. Having such things in the house for offerings actually got me to try milk again – which I thought I hated. As it turns out, I just hate skim milk, haha. Now I’ll drink a glass of local whole milk, no problem.

I now honor Brighid in my daily devotions as I do Lugh, but despite that, at this point in my life I feel no need to formally devote myself to her as I have to Lugh.  But that may change. I have aspirations for my life that I feel may cause me to desire a closer relationship with her.

For example, as the quote above illustrates, Brighid has some heavy associations with poetry and a lot of people draw further connections to other kinds of creativity and writing (also from her work as a smith – crafting + fire of inspiration). I have always enjoyed writing, and am looking at the possibility of self-publishing some short stories. Gaelic polytheism doesn’t approach patrons like Hellenic polytheism does (deities are patrons of careers/areas of interest) – but even so, I feel like if I pursue writing as a career, it would behoove me to honor a deity with some control over that.

Another thing I am looking toward cultivating is a strong sense of home. I’ll save most of my rambling about that for when we get to H, but suffice to say that Brighid’s associations with hearth and home mean that I may want to cultivate a relationship with her for those reasons as well.

So Brighid is sortof in this odd middle place in my practice … but I think we’re okay with that. I don’t seek out messages from her, and I don’t think she sends them. I really enjoyed the monthly metaphorical flametending that some Brighidines on tumblr were doing, but the blog for that has since closed, so I’m not sure whether or not to continue on my own. Sharing with other people was part of the joy of that. I’m definitely looking forward to being able to take some more time for Brighid on Imbolc and I think I’ll take a look at our relationship then. I just feel that until I move later this year and my life really starts changing gears, there is little reason for me to call on her.

And that’s okay.

It took so long for me to feel the presence of deity in my life that, now that I’ve experienced it, it can be hard to accept quiet and be satisfied with silence … but if I want to honor deities as I feel is correct – as powerful being worthy of respect – then I need to be okay with it. The gods are not my personal psychic pets to drag around.