Thursday, October 20, 2016

Praying Amongst Mountains and Waterfalls

It's been quite a while since my last post! Since then, calendar dates for Lá Bealtaine and Lá Lúnasa have past and I've spent my whole summer in Colorado. For both of the festivals I had friends over for dinner and music, as has become the usual, and have finally moved away from my natural shyness to give my offerings and prayers before dinner. In front of EVERYONE. This is a big deal for me as I tend to have a level of social anxiety, especially in ritual situations before a group of non-religious friends, but it went just fine and my confidence was appropriately boosted from the experience.

Much of this summer for me, in a religious context, has been focusing on getting out and experiencing and witnessing the natural wonders that abound here in the Rocky Mountains and the spirits that animate them. I've found that praying on mountain tops seem especially effective in shifting my mindset, where the earth meets the sky and the surrounding land stretches out further than the eye can see. It also seems to me that the Gods appreciate the effort it takes to get up there and the hike up becomes a sacrifice in its own way. And by the time I'm up there my body has pumped enough endorphins into me to put me in the best of moods!

There are also a lot of waterfalls on many of the trails here, so I've taken advantage of having that atmosphere available and have been praying and singing at the water and utilizing the sound of the water as a starting place for my focus and allowing it to drown (ha!) out my thoughts so I can better "hear" those that aren't mine. I had been using my bodhrán, playing a beat and allowing it to change on its own, but I find that the sound of the water can do much of this work for me, so I've used the bodhrán less than I was earlier this year. I think I'll continue to utilize it for some situations, especially when I'm in an especially quiet area (or maybe if it's nighttime), but I've gained some traction by shifting my consciousness with the help of different influences that might be around at the time and I've also gotten use to singing or humming until it starts to change "naturally," which has helped a great deal in sustaining the ritual mindset.

Other than that I've been working a bit on writing down different folk charms and prayers, adapting them for polytheistic context, and translating a number from Gaelic to Irish (significantly improving my understanding of Irish grammar!). I still have some ways to go to remember all the Irish, but it has been an interesting experience recognizing the flow of charms and how that works into one's actions to become a basic ritual, as well as the contrast in charms that seem either to utilize the ability of the charmer or call upon the Gods (or saints, in the original forms as we have them). One text that I have not seen recommended on reading lists for Gaelic Polytheists is Ár bPaidreacha Dúchais (Our Native Prayers) by Diarmuid Ó Laoghaire. Granted, it is completely in Irish, so harder for most Gaelic Polytheists to work through, but I've found a bit more of value to us as Gaelic Polytheists in this book than I find in the more commonly recommended Religious Songs of Connacht. Ár bPaidreacha Dúchais is in some ways akin to Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica, offering some of the same in regards to rising and resting prayers, fire-lighting and smooring prayers, house blessings, as well as a number of prayers to Bríde all of which can easily be adapted for use by Gaelic Polytheists. For those that don't have much Irish, some of these prayers can be found in original or adapted forms in the bilingual Paidreacha na Gaeilge edited by Donla uí Bhraonáin. Fortunately, Donla does a great job at listing her sources for each prayer, so its not hard to find the originals, but I did notice a change in some of the prayers she recorded from Ár bPaidreacha Dúchais, for example, where she made "Bríd Ní Dhubhthaigh" into "Bríd Ní Dhaighidí." Perhaps she read the original wrong and recorded it that way, because of the assumption that Bríd is the daughter of An Dagda, but she doesn't explain further, only noting that Bríd was a goddess in Irish myth and Saint Bríd was sometimes known by that name. It's not really an issue for us as polytheists, but it should be noted that some of the versions found in Paidreacha na Gaeilge may not be identical to those found in her sources.

With that, I will leave with a rising prayer that I've adapted from page 6 of Ár bPaidreacha Dúchais (only changing Dia to Bríde), the translation is my own.

Éirím suas le Bríde,
go n-éirí Bríde liom.
Lámh Bríde i mo thimpeall,
ag suí is ag luí
's ag éirí dom.

I rise with Bríde,
May Bríde rise with me.
The hand of Bríde around me,
as I sit and as I lie
and as I rise.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Updates and Lá Fhéile Bríde

As some may notice, I've changed the title of this blog and made some aesthetic changes. I originally created this blog as "Scrawls at the Hearthfire" back in 2009 (maybe 2010...) to log my experiences as a Gaelic Polytheist attending college. Well, college and life on top of it takes a lot of time and it didn't get very far back then...or any other time. I've changed the title, because I am rarely in any one spot for more than a year and have been moving houses for as long as I can remember. I bring my hearth shrine with me wherever I end up and thus, An Teallach Fáin, the Wandering Hearth. And so it will be until a future time when I am living in one place for a time. Another reason I chose An Teallach Fáin as the title of this blog is because of Brigid's connection to the hearth and because of a Manx story called "Manannán and the Shepherd" where Manannán refers to Himself as "King of the Wanderers" (which you can read at Annie's Tairis blog here). I feel my admiration for both gods seem appropriately summed up in the new title.

We celebrated Lá Fhéile Bríde last Monday, February 1st. Usually, I will start things the night before, but my partner's birthday is the day before so we did everything the day after. All seemed to go well overall and we kept it a bit more low-key than previous years. Most of the day was spent cleaning and cooking to Irish music along with many prayers and charms said around the house for protection. I was unable to find any natural materials to make the cros Bríde up here in the mountains, so I made a small one of paper to keep in my pocket as a charm. I may make one later on in the year during the first significant snowmelt should I find materials suitable for the purpose.

Fresh butter!!!

Dinner was beef stew (with parsnips, carrots, leeks, and mushrooms) with soda bread and some home-shaken butter. After starting a fire, I set up the table and then brought my offerings for Brigid and her cow outside to set next to the door in preparation for her visit, which is also when we flung open the door to invite her in. Friends (aka, the extended family) showed up soon after to join us for dinner. I ended the day with smooring the fire and smoothing out the ashes. The next morning there wasn't much in the ash, though a small indentation in the center looked like it could have been a foot-like shape. So, I'll take it.

Neart talamh duit,
Neart mara duit,
Neart neimhe duit,
A Bhríde, an brainse le bláthanna.

 -Prayer as Gaeilge liberally adapted from the Dùrachd or "Good Wish" in Volume III of the Carmina Gadelica, page 230-31.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Back in Colorado...

....because it's hard to stay away. Over half a year has gone by since I last posted. We did manage to get a lot done this past summer, but alongside work it left us with little time to do as much as we would have liked. We raised chickens and turkeys this past year. The chickens went to a friend's house while we're here in Colorado for the Winter, the turkeys became food (and a lot of food it was, three turkeys at 26-30 lbs), and the house guardian, Púca the Bunny, is staying at my sister's. The garden didn't do so well, aside from the herbs (basil, oregano, thyme), thanks to the turkeys, who thoroughly enjoyed the rest. Fair enough, I suppose, as it all came back to us in the end.

I did receive my bodhrán in the mail early last summer and have been practicing, though progressing slowly with the limited free learning material online. I am considering paying for a course from the Online Academy of Irish Music, though I tend to shy away from online courses since I only spend so much time online on something other than my phone. It may be worth a try, however, until I have access to in-person lessons.

I've only used the bodhrán a couple times in prayer, I have to get a better range of rhythms down before I'll be confident in utilizing it for ceremonial reasons. For now it's mostly just fun to practice. Most of my spiritually-focused studies this past summer was centered around practicing reciting poetry in Irish, as well as learning some new songs. I also wrote a basic devotional rite for Brighid and am currently working on one for Manannán Mac Lir. They're mostly a starting point and I expect I'll have a dozen drafts before I'm fully satisfied with what I'm doing, but it's progress. I had begun research on an article I was going to write with my partner about regional varieties of juniper, but we seemed to have bit off more than we could chew at the time with both professional and house work to complete, always, and so we've just been taking notes on varieties that we find travelling around. The varieties we've noted so far being in Minnesota, Colorado, and New Mexico. I plan to keep an eye out on our trip back home, or wherever we decide to go after this Winter, for different varieties and take some samples to compare. My partner will help me with the identification, plants are his thing.

I hope everyone is keeping warm and healthy this Winter, we've made it through the longest nights, though the coldest are yet to come.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Returning to Greeeeeeeen!!!

I've made it back home to Minnesota! We took quite an amazing trip back home going north through Yellowstone before heading back here, so I'll have to share some of those photos for later. Since I've been back its mostly been a lot of job hunting and preparing for the season with less time to do some of the research I would like to. On our return the weather was beautiful, though we've had quite a few (much needed) rainstorms and one good thunderstorm and everything is definitely alive and growing because of it! I was especially happy to see that we didn't miss the start of the asparagus, which is now popping up and on its way to overwhelming me with excessive harvests.

Along with the asparagus, we came home to and discovered ramps! Also known as wild leeks, we've come to find that we prefer these over other onion-like greens, with a great garlicky-onion taste. Not sure what's taken us so long to find these. Though it should be noted that, while they may grow in massive patches, they take a long time (5-7 years according to some sources) to mature so we've stuck to cutting them without pulling out the bulb (despite that being the best part). 

The ramps are the broader leaves in the center.

Unfortunately, we still haven't been able to find much in the way of good mushrooms on our small piece of land, but the plan is to hunt elsewhere and attempt spreading the spores around. With luck we may have some in the future! 

Now that we've returned I've done some scoping around the land and woods to find a good secluded spot where I can spend more time in prayer. I'm starting to realize its really not the best area in general, but I can probably make do. We live on the highway that goes around Lake Mille Lacs, so traffic noise may become an issue on the weekends. We have a pond behind our house that may be a good spot, though I'm starting to realize that insects are going to be an issue, as well. If you've never been in the wet and wooded heart of Minnesota, we have bugs. A LOT of them. To the point that you have to close the windows, because the buzz of the swarms are too loud. And this year it seems Winter may not have been cold enough to kill off a lot of the eggs from last year, so we arrived to find the mosquitoes have already hatched, matured, and biting though not yet in the quantities we'll see next year. We also have a good number of ticks and we can't really go outside without getting at least one. Anyways, here are some photos of the land, just because.

The trail going into the woods behind our house.

I have been searching back in the woods, as well, though this is technically our neighbor's land. While they are family friends of my partner, they are in the woods often, so it may be weird if they come upon me praying out there and I'm not paying attention. They're only around on occasional weekends, though, so I may be just fine back there. 

Some violets!!! Though not at numerous as the dwarf trout lilies, they're everywhere.

We also have quite a bit of trillium flowering, as well. 

We're also getting our chickens today, so there will be some photos of those critters later, of course. I also ordered a bodhran and expect it soon which I'm quite excited for. A lot to do over the next few weeks...

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mysticism With Structure

Recently I've been reflecting on when I began the process of switching from a neo-pagan worldview to a Gaelic Polytheist (Reconstructionist) and how that affected my religious experience overall. The first shift began when I was 14 and discovered, for the first time, the term Celtic Reconstructionism. I remember quite clearly finding it in Christopher Penczak's The Inner Temple of Witchcraft that listed a number of religions that he described as neo-pagan. While much of my experience was in neo-pagan witchcraft, I had some exposure to neo-Druidism through really terrible books (one I remember being Douglas Monroe's The 21 Lessons of Merlyn, which....just don't...) until I came across the term and googled it which subsequently led me to the CR FAQ. I remember I had initially had a hard time adopting a hard polytheistic worldview. Much of my understanding of the divine had been influenced by duotheistic sentiments found amongst many neo-pagans, especially Wiccans, and my mother's odd and unorthodox duotheistic understanding of Christianity (which she derived from Sylvia Browne and translations of the Nag Hammadi texts). I can't really remember when the real shift in understanding happened, it was a gradual process and formed through my experience interacting with the gods and recognizing them and honoring them as separate entities in their own right. Perhaps they had decided to reveal themselves more to me as such when I made that approach. Either way, much of my early years delving into Gaelic Polytheism was taken up by researching, researching, and researching some more, which (in my opinion) is essential for Gaelic Polytheists today. I have seen a number of blogs and posts around the internet, most from neo-pagans though a number also from self-described Celtic Reconstructionists, over the years criticizing Celtic Reconstructionist groups and individuals for putting so much emphasis on research. This is one of the issues found in the Celtic Polytheist communities that I would like to address in this post. It has been so repeatedly elsewhere, I'm sure, but this relates directly to my religious experience and how it has changed and is changing.

Most of my spiritual experience pre-GP consisted of magical/divinatory practices that I dug up from my collection of neo-pagan books, mostly published by Llewellyn and purchased at Barnes & Noble, otherwise stuff I found on the internet. It wasn't structured and when I was really young it was more for the thrill. I am and always have been attracted to mystical practices, but my experience in neo-paganism had me feeling left short and lacking in sincere experience. The tone and language often found in neo-pagan religions and amongst neo-pagans rarely felt real or sincere for me and I often felt that the folks I would interact with didn't really believe themselves. I've always considered myself rather skilled at reading people and the few neo-pagans I had met gave me the impression that they were just playing pretend. Videos of rituals gave me the same impression. So, I think it was a bit of a relief for me when I came to Celtic Reconstructionist groups and they didn't emphasize skill in magical practices or meditation. Frankly, to an extent, I was getting sick of it. Not that this ever affected my desire for spiritual experience, I was just done with Wiccan-esque spellwork and the various practices that I didn't feel was enriching my spiritual life. So, when I began to dedicate much of my time to forming my Gaelic Polytheistic worldview I left much of that behind and focused almost entirely on researching and building a way of life within a Gaelic Polytheist framework. However, there have been times over the years where I felt lacking in spiritual experience within Gaelic Polytheism and it was all reading and reciting prayers and giving offerings. Just doing it isn't enough, in my opinion, one must feel it and mean it. This may also have been a holdover from my neo-pagan practices. It still didn't always feel real. Over the years this has changed and I've learned less to seek out intense experiences and more to listen to what's already being told/shown to us. I think I was missing out on this a bit before as some of it was too influenced by neo-pagan perceptions that ended up being inappropriate for my newer worldview. I've become used to noticing and interpreting omens, which has been the majority of my experience in divination, though I was not actively seeking them out as I was before, except for folk practices that I have adopted for festival days when divination is commonplace. The place that divination and other mystical practices have in Gaelic Polytheism have differed overall, though we are not necessarily lacking in that respect. Rather than seek out, we listen more. And rather than conjuring spirits, we invite them and give them hospitality. We aren't always trying to make change happen around us with magical practices, rather we are trying to establish mutually-beneficial relationships. This last, in my opinion, has now laid out the groundwork that I think I sorely needed before I was a Gaelic Polytheist. While its far from complete; we are always studying, discovering, reviving, reconstructing, and adopting; it has formed a more solid worldview of multiplicity with endless possibilities, but offered guidance and structure from the lifeways of our ancestors.

With this framework I have been working on a number of devotional rites, that often change, particularly for Brigid and Manannán Mac Lir. They have been long in the process of formation, but get better and I think will move more and more smoothly and eloquently with time and practice. I began developing them when I was craving spiritual experience and felt I was in a dry period, though I am learning to find the value merely in interacting with them and presenting myself as an honorable and respectful individual who will work with them to promote our worldview. Again, this framework is necessary in my experience. Establishing a relationship before seeking out knowledge through mysticism simply makes more sense to me now and has worked better than when I resorted directly to mysticism with the desire merely to experience the presence of the spirits for my own selfish reasons. I have finally arrived at the point where I again wish to experience mysticism, but to also do so in order to learn more about and from the Gods and spirits so that I may pass on knowledge that I gain to others for the benefit of my religious and cultural community, as well as my family and friends/family who have similar understandings of the spirit world, or are at least willing to listen. While I have been doing more lately, my travels here to Colorado have hindered me somewhat due to the foreign nature of the local area. I have been so used to Minnesota for so long that this place feels as different as any, so establishing relationships here would take years of study and interaction. I do leave offerings here and pray, though I have put my mystical practices on hold until my return home here at the end of April. Much of my spiritual practice here has been limited to my daily rites and our celebration for Lá Fhéile Bríde. I did collect some juniper for saining here in Colorado, though I haven't used it yet as I still have some from home and I'm not sure what variety of juniper this is quite yet. Speaking of, I am planning a future post in cahoots with my partner Luke where we compare local varieties of plants and their relation to similar or near identical plants in the Gaelic lands. He has a much better understanding of plant life from a scientific perspective and works for Minnesota Native Landscaping back home and therefore has a much better grasp of what exactly we have available back home. He's also busy with a lot of his own projects, so we'll see when he actually gets to that...

Soooooooooo, the plan for when I get back home, aside from getting ready for the growing season, is to further develop more mystical practices starting with formally introducing myself to the land we live on and then listening, praying, giving, and singing. I wish to do so within a Gaelic Polytheist framework, so I have also been in the process of translating more of the prayers I have collected into Irish as I have dedicated a lot of my time here learning more Irish and getting a better grasp of the language. I also have some physical projects planned for the summer that I would like to dedicate to Brigid and Manannán Mac Lir, but I'll explain more when the time comes. Until then, I have a couple weeks left in Colorado that I am going to make the best of. As strange and different as this land is, it is beautiful and if I do return I would love to learn more about the gods and spirits here. Yet I have so much to learn about the spirits of my home state!