Archive for the ‘Imbolc’ Category

Enchantments of Brighid   Leave a comment

One of the Enchantments of Brighid is openness to possibility. The goddess specializes in healing, poetry and smithcraft — skills of change, transformation and receptivity to powerful energies to fuel those changes and transformations. We seek inspiration and know sometimes it runs at high tide and sometimes low. As this month draws to a close, we have a moon waxing to full, an aid from the planets and the elements to kindle enchantments, transformations, shifts in awareness.

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A day ago we finished a box of wooden matches. The box holds 250, and since we use them only for lighting our stove, that means we go through just part of a box every year. Emptying a box doesn’t happen that often, so it’s noticeable.

I like the imagery of the “empty” box. Though combustible itself, its main purpose is to contain matches and provide a strike surface. An old box has a worn strike surface, and one might be tempted to toss the whole thing in the fire. But I’m keeping it for these 19 days of Brighid, and it occurs to me now that it deserves a place on my altar. The sacredness of the everyday? Well, where else can the holy mystery abide in the worlds of matter, energy, space and time. As a friend likes to say, a mest (or messed) world can be a good and powerful stage for life and joy to happen.

Not to stretch things too far — how far is that, anyway? — I am a box, and so are you. Our spaces can hold all manner of things, and it’s our intention that determines what those might be. Insubstantial in itself, the box is nevertheless a potential locus for fire and mystery, or scores of other things. We take from the box a mood or a match, strike it and lay it to paper and kindling. We don’t create the fire, but without the box, the match, the intention and the movement to bring fire and kindling together, we don’t get flames.

To me the empty box is a “found” spiritual tool (my favorite kind), one I can work with physically and also in the imagination from where magic pours forth. Kitchen magic, or woodstove magic, if you will. What belongs inside it? What are some of the matches I wish to light? Where do I find them? (Where have I found them in the past? What new sources of them open up each day?)

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On a small piece of paper I write a prayer to Brighid, and I fold and close it in the box.

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Brighid: Druid and Christian   Leave a comment

We could subtitle this post “Druidry — the Ironic Survival”. Philip Carr-Gomm notes in his book Druid Mysteries:

Although Christianity ostensibly superseded Druidry, in reality it contributed to its survival, and ultimately to its revival after more than a millennium of obscurity.  It did this in at least four ways:  it continued to make use of certain old sacred sites, such as holy wells; it adopted the festivals and the associated folklore of the pagan calendar; it recorded the tales of the Bards, which encoded the oral teachings of the Druids; and it allowed some of the old gods to live in the memory of the people by co-opting them into the Church as saints.  That Christianity provided the vehicle for Druidry’s survival is ironic, since the Church quite clearly did not intend this to be the case (p. 31).

Sacred sites, festivals and folklore, tales of the Bards, and the old gods: there you have the substance not only of Druidry but also of Druid and Christian linkages and considerable common ground.

Do we need all four to practice Druidry, or to honor Brighid?

Yes. We already have all four, to a degree that allows us to build on what we have, if we choose. While guided tours to sacred sites continue to make money for their organizers, we can gain access inwardly, through dedicated practice.

How?

On the day before the 19 Days of Brighid, we have many points of access, if we’re willing to explore them with attention, creativity and love.

1) Kildare is Cill Dara, “Church or Cell of the Oak”. Find an oak tree or leaf. “As above, so below. As within, so without”. Can you proceed from there? If you’ve been reading this blog, or have a practice of your own, you have an inkling or a clear idea of what you might do next. Here then is a first door to the Enchantment of Brighid.

Now for 18 more.

2) For a guided meditation, many songs exist. One I’ve posted about previously is Damh the Bard’s song “Brighid” . Enact the song, as your circumstances permit. Read through the lyrics first, or just listen through. Then do what comes to you to make the song come alive. What will you offer at the Well? If you have a bowl of water and a candle or tealight, enact the first appearance of the goddess. Say the prayer of the song’s chorus, or your own.

3) Using the help of the video in the previous post for making a Brighid’s cross, make the creation of your own cross — from reeds, strips of paper, fabric, etc. — an offering, a gift, an act of mindfulness, a devotion to Brighid.

4) Troubled by doubt? Blocked into inaction by hesitation, fear, or talking self telling you not to be ridiculous? Note the lines in Damh’s song: “But in her prison, she heard the spell the people were chanting: Three days of Summer, and snowdrops are flowering again”. The people — that’s you and me — help free her from prison. We imprison the divine, but we have the power to liberate it again in our lives. What chant comes to you? Listen for it as you go about your day, reading the headlines, listening to conversations, songs on the radio, and so on. Meditate, and write down what comes. This is a prayer the people are chanting.

5) Dance a dance you make up that has 19 steps. A circle, a square, some other shape or just steps as they come to you. Swing your arms, raise them, keep them at your sides, or clasped in prayer. Drum on a tabletop, a pot, a cup, bang two spoons together. Or step in silence. On the 19th step, say or whisper aloud or inwardly the name of the goddess. Dance when nobody’s watching. Except you and the goddess.

6) Brighid is goddess of fire. Light a flame and say “The fire is still burning. Nineteen priestesses tend the Eternal Flame. Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning”.

7) Educate yourself about Brighid. Here’s an easy “for-instance” — a short video (5 mins.) featuring Mary Meighan, who offers several clues to a practice.

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Brighid’s Well

8) Volunteer at a homeless shelter, dedicating the service to Brighid, an offering, a way of helping to keep the human fire kindled in others. We think of such things around the big Christian holidays of Christmas and Thanksgiving and tend to drop them from memory at other times. I’ve just sent off an email to one of our local shelters, 8 miles away, requesting info on volunteering.

9) Dedicate a practice meaningful to you for each of the next 19 full moons. Ask for insight and resolution — in exact proportion to how well you keep your practice. Ready? Set … Go!

10) Following bpott’s comment on a recent post, “[P]lay (with serious thought) with enchantment”. What does enchantment look like to you? When have you experienced moments of enchantment? How did they manifest? What was going on when they did manifest? What can you do to welcome them again?

11) Again following another recent comment by bpott, take your practice outdoors, however briefly. Especially needful in the Northeastern US, because we get serious cases of cabin fever. (Our area organizes “Cabin Fever Dinners” to bring people out of hunker-down mode and into celebration over a communal meal. One of the more popular ones in our area draws 75-100 people and is held in a local church.  Yes, plenty of non-church people attend. It doesn’t hurt that the menu and kitchen are overseen by the pastor’s husband, who’s a gourmet chef. It’s very much a Brighid experience, at least for me. Generosity, kindling the fire in others.) Enjoy the thaw that’s come to the region. And wherever you are, breathe outdoor air. Let the sun shine on your skin.

12) What can you kindle and smith, inspire and heal, in yourself and others? What wells and forges exist in your life? How can you use and serve them? What wells and forges have you possibly overlooked or taken for granted? Again, how can you serve and use them?

13) Set a dream intention each night for prophetic, healing or creative dreams. Record each morning what comes. If you think nothing came, write what you imagine coming. Read it that night before you go to sleep.

14) Choose a bowl of water or goblet, etc. as your Well of Brighid. Ask for the blessing of Brighid upon it. Drink from it each morning after sleep.

15) You visit the Fire Temple on the inner planes. What do you experience there? Write down what comes. Who greets you? What gets ignited? What gets burnt away? What kind of flame are you given to return with to your life?

16) Find a poem that inspires you. (Or write one.) Make the reading and saying aloud of the poem a practice for the 19 days. Make of your love for the poem an offering.

17) Practice intense devotion for a particular manifestations of the divine in the form of a god or goddess that draws you. In a post “Loop of Brighid: The Mysticism of Devotion“, Christopher Scott Thompson says,

Rather than talking in a hypothetical way about what the mystical experience actually is, I’m going to talk about how to get there yourself through your own relationship with the gods and goddesses you personally serve. This is not an attempt to import something like bhakti from Hinduism into modern western paganism, because devotional practice to specific deities is already naturally developing within the pagan revival. However, I will be using the concept of bhakti as an analogy for the most intense and mystical forms of modern devotional paganism, such as the mood expressed in this poem [included just above this extract in the original post].

18) Read Chris Godwin’s 19 Jan 2018 post on his blog, From a Common Well, on “18 Celtic Imbolc Customs and Traditions for the Feast of Brighid“. Choose one or more to try.

19) Give thanks to Brighid for the opportunity to give thanks. There’s a paradox and a profound insight to be practiced here.

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Image: Brighid’s Well.

 

Moon of Brighid   Leave a comment

Brighid--Patrick Tuohy

St. Brighid/Patrick Tuohy

For those of you incubating your own enchantment of Brighid to coincide with the upcoming 19 days of the goddess, you have the moon to aid you. Waxing now, it reaches full at nearly the midpoint of the 19 days, on the 31st of January — a fine symmetry, whether you choose to align with it or not.

The Solar Question for today, the 20th of the month, in Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional (Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004) asks “What is the source of your spiritual guidance?” The Lunar Meditation* for the fourth day of the moon (counting the New Moon, Jan. 17,  as day 1) is “the wonder of life”. If I’m facing a period of spiritual dryness, if I have no other ready guidance, “the wonder of life” is a fitting source. Watching and listening, I can find in something small as the sun sparkling on an icicle a subtly radiant doorway into the Enchantment of Brighid.

Because magic so often starts small, no more than a tickle, a spark, a whisper. Till it builds.

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Images: St. Brighid by Patrick Tuohy (1894-1930)

*The book includes a perpetual calendar displaying the 19-year lunar cycle, allowing a reader to find the appropriate Question and Meditation.

Refreshing “Home”   Leave a comment

Keep refreshing “home” and your browser gives you different results, your Facebook feed changes, etc., my wife said the other day.

If I’m paying attention, an inner bell goes off for me at such moments, an aha! of illumination. Spiritual practice is my way of refreshing home, of choosing — or asking for — something else than what the apparent or obvious may be telling or showing me. Some animals and insects excel in mimicry as a defense, or to lure prey. So too the human world, with its heartfelt truths and its cons, its bullshit and its profound beauties, its “characters” and “originals” and its gold standard friends.

Refreshing home is a kind of alertness that many animals retain, honed senses not dulled by noise from talking self. Don’t get me wrong — human speech is indeed a gift. But like many powerful gifts, it’s double-edged. It’s true, peace to Walt Whitman, that animals “do not make me sick discussing their duty to God … Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago”*

So when I write, as in the previous post, about things like devotion to Brighid, and you’re feeling particularly agnostic about, maybe, absolutely everything, consider J M Greer’s observations about egregor(e)s, the energy of group consciousness that forms around any regular gathering and gives it a distinct character, and especially around magical groups that work intentionally with charging and exploring its potentials. Is Brighid an egregor? Does your local parent-teacher association or book club or university class differ from other groups in any way? Of course. But is Brighid “merely” an egregor?

Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and other atheists miss a very large point here. I won’t spell it out — you already know it, or else you’re not interested in knowing it.

Greer says, writing about magical lodges:

… egregors capable of carrying the highest levels of power can only be built up on the basis of the living patterns of the realm of meaning, outside space and time. These patterns are what some religions call gods, and what others call aspects of God. They have a reality and a power that have nothing to do with the egregors built up around them, but they use the egregors the way people use clothing or the way actors in many traditional societies use masks. Skillful, intelligent, ethical, and dedicated work with these egregors, according to tradition, can bring lodge members into a state of participation with the primal living powers of existence itself — a state that is the goal of most religions, and as well as the highest summit of the art of magic (Greer, Inside a Magical Lodge, Llywellyn Books, 1998, pgs. 109-110).

It’s the part of those willing to work with and within a tradition not to stop at the level of belief in it, but to test and explore its possibilities. We’re worlds away from credal faith here. But you may, if you’re around a devotee of Brighid, especially this time of year, overhear or encounter a song or poem or prayer of dedication, service, and love.

 

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*”I think I could turn and live with the animals“; Song of Myself.

Nineteen Days of Brighid   2 comments

Imbolc, the February 1st or 2nd holiday, part of the seasonal cycle of the “Great Eight” Pagan festivals, has long been associated with Brighid. Goddess, saint, patron of poets, smiths and healers, Brighid is a potent presence for many Druids. Christian Druids can honor her in either or both traditions, and her legends and symbols — effective points of access to her — are many.

Among the traditions that have gathered around her is the significance of the number 19 — whether part of the ancient awareness of the moon’s Metonic cycle, or the Christian tradition for determining Easter, curiously associated with the full moon, or the 19 nuns at Kildare connected with Saint Brighid. Or the practice of 19 days of magic focused on devotion to the goddess-saint, which this post examines. As a Druid-Christian link, the number and practices associated with Imbolc and Brighid can join the others I’ve talked about in other posts here as yet another means to transcend argument or debate, and find blessing.

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Nineteen days with Imbolc in the center (on Feb. 1), the 10th day, begin January 23 and take us to February 10.

As this circle is cast, the enchantment of the apparent world fades … We stand together in the eye of the sun here and now …

So goes part of OBOD standard ritual. Why, you might be asking, if Druids say they wish to attune themselves to the natural world, do they practice ritual that sees the natural world as both enchanted and apparent?

Well, we still stand “in the eye of the sun”. Partly it’s “talking self” (see this and this post) that distracts us, that enchants us in the sense of holding us spellbound (and self-bound) rather than freeing us to grow. Circles concentrate energy and attention, contain them for the duration of the ritual, and can help charge us as instruments of the divine in order that we may “know, dare, will and keep silent”, as the old adage goes. So we circle alone and together to watch that particular enchantment fade, so that others can manifest more clearly. It’s a choice of enchantments. Do you like the current ones at work in the world? “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes”. Sign me up!

Spending the interval from now till the beginning of the 19 days, a week from today, determining what service to offer, what magic to work, is time well spent.

I’ll be following up here with my experiences.

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Image: Brighid. My preference is for deity images that aren’t sentimental or “airbrush pretty”. Contemporary artists often portray sexy gods and goddesses, which is fine, but as an image for meditation I’d rather not use soft porn.

Brighid of the Snows   3 comments

The first stanza of Damh the Bard’s lovely song “Brighid” (below) places the goddess in the landscape of vision:

There’s a tree by the well in the wood,
That’s covered in garlands,
Clooties and ribbons that drift,
In the cool morning air.
That’s where I met an old woman,
Who came from a far land.
Holding a flame o’er the well,
And chanting a prayer.

Though here it’s the goddess who’s “chanting a prayer”, the bard has invoked her with song — his own prayer. And he’s gone to the “well in the wood” full of intention. Maybe not specifically to see the goddess, but knowing the tree and the well and the moment offer possibility waiting for human consciousness to activate. A gift of the gods, already given freely to us.

Here in Vermont a light snow falls as I write this, and I step away from the keyboard to take a picture.

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By February here, snow itself can signal spring to come. You can feel the longer light, and moments of snowy beauty remind you that wonder is never far away. The sap will be running soon in the maples, the sugar shacks smoking all day and night as the sugarmen boil down the sweet juice to syrup. Green will burst forth, improbable as that seems right now in a world of cold whiteness. So Brighid comes from a “far land” that is also always near to attention, intention and devotion.

Here across the Pond from the Celtic homeland, some North American Pagans can feel removed from the “gods of Europe”, bewailing their distance. This place, we can feel, isn’t “Their” land. Yet anyone who’s encountered a spiritual presence knows that place is a convenience of the gods, not a requirement — a set of clothes, not the being who wears them.

Yes, it would be splendid, we imagine, to visit that “tree by the well in the wood”, simply by stepping out the back door to a landscape steeped in stories and legends of the goddess. Yet we also know what familiarity breeds. Or as an African proverb has it, “Those who live nearest the church arrive late”.  The old saying that the gods like the offering of the salt of human sweat means effort is not wasted, devotion is repaid. Always, we have something we can offer them. And the gods give, but “not as the world gives”.

For you soon find that the gods are not merely passive reservoirs, to be drawn down whenever we happen to think of them and plug in for a re-charge, our rituals cannily crafted to work like the swipe of a credit card at a gas (petrol) pump. “Fill me up, Brighid!”

But wait, you say. Isn’t that just what we’re doing with ritual and song?

It’s really not a matter for argument, unless you need the exercise. Damh the Bard knows Brighid — you can hear it in the song. And out of love he’s traveled many times to the tree by the well in the wood. Brighid knows his name.

This, then, is one intention to cherish: may we serve them so that the gods know our names. Not to hold it up before others like a badge of pride, but as a spiritual resource to treasure and spend at worthy need. Or as Gandhi said, “If no one will walk with you, walk alone” knowing in truth you aren’t alone.

Ten years ago I didn’t honor Brighid. I didn’t “believe” in her, though I’d heard her name, thanks to all those who kept it alive in our world. Now I honor her, but I still don’t trouble myself about “belief”.

Instead, I take the hint and look. “I saw her reflection in the mirrored well”, Damh sings.

And I looked deep in her face,
The old woman gone, a maiden now knelt in her place,
And from my pocket I pulled a ribbon,
And in honour of her maidenhood,
I tied it there to the tree by the well in the wood.

Spiritual fire kindles in us at such moments.

A blessed Imbolc to you.

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Preparing the Ways   Leave a comment

The Hopi of the American Southwest call one of their ceremonial pipes natwanpi — literally, “instrument of preparation”. As words do, this one stuck with me ever since I read it, decades ago now. No wonder: we need markers for passage into sacred time, because otherwise it can burn and blow right past us. Or, to shift metaphors, if we don’t catch the sacred wave, we can’t surf in sacred time. We miss that tidal flow, then wonder why life can seem flat or dis-spirited.

With a beloved festival like Imbolc calling us, what better time to consider how we can attune to sacred times and sacred tides?

Shinto, that perennially popular topic here at A Druid Way, offers a mid-January festival called Bonden-sai which feels harmonious with Druid practice. Of course it has cultural flavors and overlays unique to Japan and Shinto, but its focus asks for and offers a kind of natwanpi. (Besides, a cold, gray, snowy northern January can use some color and liveliness.)

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Bonden-sai, Akita Prefecture

The bonden for which the festival is named is called a “sacred wand”, though as you can see from the bonden in the picture above, “pillar” or “column” better suggests its appearance. (Let the chickens on some of the bonden above enlarge your sense of “sacred”!) A typical bonden, the Japanese National Tourist Organization (JNTO)  helpfully informs us,  measures

almost four meters in length … [and] serves as a marker for the gods descending to this world. In ancient times, bonden used to be made of paper or rice straw, but in recent years, they are often made by decorating a bamboo basket with colorful fabric. The bonden wands are carried by groups of children, townspeople, or even company employees. Each group entrusts the bonden with their prayers for an abundant harvest, good health for their families and success in business.

akita-mapBonden-sai is intimately associated with Akita Prefecture in Northwest Japan. Akita is also famed for its onsen (hot springs) and mountains, and Mount Taiheizan, the symbol of Akita City, is  a major site for the festival. Bonden-sai there means a vigorous race up the mountain with your bonden to procure the blessings of the gods.

Shinto and Japanese culture, so long linked, have celebrated the sacred in so many things that the secular West allows to pass unremarked. Whether it’s drinking tea or sake, or bathing, or marking the calendar with a plethora of festivals, Japan models practices the West and particularly western Paganism learn from, build on and delight in.

Because when the gods are dead, the human heart also dies a little every day. You certainly don’t have to “believe” in them as any kind of prerequisite, any more than you have to believe in anything in particular to celebrate Halloween or Christmas or MLK Day. The gods themselves can serve as a kind of natwanpi, a means of preparation. Belief, like so much else, is a tool, a strategy, a technique for connecting to things other than ourselves. Use it skilfully, delicately, consciously, I’m learning, and it repays the respectful treatment.

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Nyuto Onsen (hot springs), Akita Prefecture

Ultimately it’s the impulse to celebrate that’s the flame to cherish. And if it chances on occasion to be gods that help it happen, as one of the forms the sacred can take, why exclude them out of hand, just because they’re gods?

As for me, I try to take advantage of any natwanpi that comes my way. And if I succeed and connect only 30% of the time, well, isn’t that a very respectable baseball batting average?!

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Images: Bonden in Akita; Nyuto Onsen.

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