October: Chaos

I get the call at 5pm. Merlin needs to be put to sleep, tonight. I look at my watch and know I will not get there in time.

-          –          –          –          -

The car mounts the pavement a few feet to my right. I run, unaided, tripping on the pavement edge. My head slamming, all in an instant, against unyielding grey tarmac. The urban earth rising to meet me.

-          –          –          –          -

Hannah takes my hand and we lock fingers. For a moment we acknowledge that this will be the last time we see each other. Then she asks if my psoriasis is better, and the moment has gone.

-          –          –          –          -

Day 10, and my temperature is going up and down like a yo-yo. I’m aware of every part of my body, joints screeching at me not to move. Which is fine – the dizziness takes care of that. In sleep I see the Caiileach pounding rocks with a hammer, and a dark-haired Winter Queen stands high above me.

-          –          –          –          -

I do not think that my Lady killed my cat or broke my nose. My partner’s aunt died of cancer, which had even less to do with me. I got the ‘flu because my immune system sucks because I have a genetic condition. These things are the way of the world, and not the responsibility of any person or being.

But there was a reason why Beara asked me to dedicate myself to her at the edge of summer, on the edge of the world. Welcoming in a goddess of chaos and creation, dedicating myself as her priestess-in-training, I made a serious commitment, and she took it seriously. Letting Cailleach Bhearra into my life, completely, meant a flooding in of her waters against my seashore, carving a path into my edges. And as Samhain creeps in, the days contracting suddenly, the gates to the Otherworld are all at once flung open, and the Trooping Folk flood in. Chaos reigns.

I’m not great with earth energy. Two deaths, one illness, and one literal encounter with the ground later, I’m starting to experience Beara’s earth energy very directly. It burns when you look into that volcano. It breaks your nose when you hit that road surface.

I don’t deny that the gods could break my bones if they wanted to. But I don’t think my Lady would. Not because she’s all touchy-feely, either. She’s not concerned with breaking my little bones – she’s got winds to stir up and mountains to carve out of the landscape. If I want to serve her, I get to live at the foot of her mountain and let the waves engulf me. It’s the only way.

These are the Long Days of Misrule before the sun stands still. Let the Folk dance where they will. She’s keeping an eye on them. I can’t say that she won’t let me fall – but I do know that she won’t push me.

-     –     –     –     -

I call on my lady as I sit in traffic. ‘Clear me a path, lady of the wild winds and shifting earth.’ The rain beats down, unrelenting. But there’s a rainbow just to my right as I reach the vet’s, minutes before they’re due to close. I get to tell Merlin that he was the best friend I could have asked for, to help me through two years in the wilderness. And that it’s OK, and he can go to sleep now.

The cliffs of Inis Baoi.

The cliffs of Inis Baoi.

The coolest cat.

The coolest cat.

Stories from the Pilgrimage, Pt 1

hag stone 3

hag stone 2

My lady sits on a cliff top, looking out across the bay, where land, sea and sky meet. She is the mountain embodied, the land given form as a god.


She waits for her husband, the sea god. She watches her land and her people.

 

hag stone 1

 

 

 

 

 

She asked me to dedicate myself three times.

Once in the presence of Manannan mac Lir, at the bay where I met him many years ago. Manannan her husband; Manannan the lord of all my journeys. King of the Wanderers, Lord of the Sea.

sealbay

And once in the presence of Duibhne, goddess of the Corca Duibhne people, her sister and my first ancestor. I did this part at a spot I discovered because there was literally a rainbow sitting over it as I drove past the previous day. (I’d been on the Corca Duibhne peninsula for a few days at the beginning of my trip, but nowhere there quite worked like this spot did.)

In the mist and the rain…

rainbow2

…and on a clear day

But at last I was headed to the Hag of Beara Stone, for the final dedication, to Beara* alone, and I was incredibly nervous. This is the spot where my Lady is most famous. I’ve met her in different parts of the land, and found that she is different everywhere. She’s wild in the mountains, warm and protective in the valleys, stormy by the sea… What if her aspect at the Hag Stone didn’t know me, or I didn’t recognise her?

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A gate guards the way to the stone

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An information plate about the stone, something I’ve only seen in one or two other places on the Peninsula

It was good that I was prepared. The Hag Stone was overwhelming. There, she’s like a great wind that forever rages across the mountain, exposed and open. I was hit with the force of dozens of centuries of stories told about this single geological feature, its total captivation of the people who saw it. In the offerings on and around the stone, I knew I was not alone in my worship of An Chailleach Bhearra, even though it may sometimes seem that way, and even though I may not understand the ways in which others relate to her. We are still all her people.

hagstone6

Offerings are all over the stone. This is a sacred place for many more people than just me.

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The view across the bay from just behind the stone

I feel like a liminal person when it comes to many different things. In many parts of my life. The way I relate to my gods is just one thing that’s difficult to reconcile with what others around me do. I feel different – whether I actually am or not.

It’s time to stop being ashamed of my differences, and to embrace them – all of them. It’s time to stand on the clifftop and shout out Beara’s name to the waiting land below. It’s time to start learning how to stand proudly, like she does, between.

It’s time to start learning how to be her priestess.

More stories from the pilgrimage soon.

Sunset over Bantry Bay

Sunset over Bantry Bay

*Look, I’m learning how lenition works in Irish! :D

A Dedication

You are the Weaver of fate.
You are the Spinner of dreams.
You are the Unravelling of hope.

You are the Waters of the Well of chaos.
You are the Seed of the Tree of justice.
You are the Spark that lights the Fire of life, and burns it out.

You are the gentle evening breeze in the trees.
You are the terrible, raging gale on the mountaintop.
You are the Shaper of the land.

You are the child that is born from the waters.
You are the old woman who will never get down to the water in Time.
You are the Beginning of life, and you are its End.

You are the Mountain.
You are the Wilderness.
You are the Wild One.

You were the there when the sea first drew breath
and the land rose up from its depths
and the sky settled on the horizon

You will be here until the land drowns
Until the sea rises up and swallows her whole
Until the sky falls and the world burns.

You stand between.
You stand between the mountains and the shore.
You stand between the sea and the sky.
You stand between the dawn and the sunrise.
You stand between the twilight and the night.
You stand between the shadows and the darkness.
You stand between the candle and the star.

You are the sovereign Queen of the land called Beara.

I did not seek you, but you found me.
I did not want to live in the liminal spaces, but you met me there.
I longed for the light, but you have shown me the power of the shadows.

I am your liminal one, who stands between solitude and community.
I am your liminal one, who stands between healing and death.
I am your liminal one, who stands between the ancestors and the world.
I am your liminal one, who stands between my reality and theirs.

Not English, but neither entirely Irish.
Not able-bodied, but neither entirely disabled.
Not neurotypical, but neither entirely neurodivergent.
Not Christian, but neither entirely Pagan.
Not of the Otherworld, but neither entirely of this one.

I am the child of the Mountain.

You stand between.
You stand between the mountains and the shore.
You stand between the sea and the sky.
You stand between the dawn and the sunrise.
You stand between the twilight and the night.
You stand between the shadows and the darkness.
You stand between the candle and the star.

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The Irish Road in History and Mythology

Léithin Cluan/Naomi:

A lovely reflection on the road in Irish myth and history.

Originally posted on aliisaacstoryteller:

irish Road 1

A stretch of the R438. Could it have followed the route of a more ancient Irish road?

I was driving along the R438 on my way from Sneem in Co Kerry to my home in Co Cavan yesterday, when it occurred to me, not for the first time, how very long and curiously straight certain stretches of this road are. And it’s not the only one I’ve come across whilst driving around Ireland.

We have always credited the Romans with building incredibly straight roads as they advanced on their campaign of dominion across Europe, but the Romans never came to Ireland in anything other than small groups to trade and barter. What  if the Romans were just making use of a network of roads which already existed? I mean, why go to the extra trouble and expense of excavating and building new roads, when all they had to do was…

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Preparation for Dedication

30. Any suggestions for others just starting to learn about this deity?

The last question on the 30 Days of Deity Devotion is a tricky one. There is so little written about the Cailleach Bhearra of the Beara Peninsula, specifically. She’s there, in myths and folklore, but you have to look hard. She creeps in, shrouded in disguise, passing for an ordinary old woman. She’s the wife of a druid on an island with a cow. She’s a woman with a lobster in a box. She’s a farmer with a harvest to reap, competing with any man who believes he can reap it faster. She’s an Old One turned to stone by a Christian saint, looking out across the sea and waiting for her husband the sea-god. Waiting for the right time for her reemergence from the land, renewed and young again.

The best way to meet Cailleach Bhearra – Baoi – is to go to her land, the Beara Peninsula. She is so close to the land that they are indistinguishable. I worry, saying this, that I’m wallowing in privilege and cultural imperialism. I can afford to go to Ireland, and it’s just over the water from me so it’s not difficult to go. I happen to go there every other year or so, anyway, to see my family.

But she’s also in all the land, everywhere. She’s in the wind in the trees. She’s in the mountains that she laid down, and the ancient stones that she flung at her sister, and the harvest that she reaps. She’s the dark cliffs watching the sea from above. She’s wherever chaos and creation swirl about each other, where the Well feeds the Tree, where darkness creates light. She’s in the darkness within us, waiting. In the liminal spaces. In between.

…the darkness that would be cast
between the moment when I could destroy

and the moment when I would devour.

- Leanne O’Sullivan

Pilgrimage

I’m planning a trip to Ireland at the moment. To dedicate myself to a deity.

In two weeks I’ll be there – alone. This will be the furthest I’ve gone on my own since I became disabled. I’m going to Dingle, where Dovinia’s name is all over the Ogham stones, and to Beara, where my ancestors are from, and on down to Inis Baoi (Baoi Bhearra or Oileán Baoi in modern Irish, Dursey Island in English). I will have a hire car and a bag. And my world gets smaller.

I’ll have to take a cable car over to Oileán Baoi – you can’t sail – the waters are too choppy. The sea keeps you out, Manannan mac Lir protecting his Lady, demanding to know if you are worthy of her. And my world gets smaller.

There’s a spot on Inis Baoi where there will be nothing but me and the land and the sea and the gods. And my world gets smaller… and they get bigger, and I remember that I’m a crucial part of the infinite.

Well, That’s the plan, anyway!

Now I just have to craft a ritual. Little thing. :S

All Wrong: Religion, Culture and Country

Léithin Cluan/Naomi:

Very interesting post on the problems that Americans have when they’re looking for Pagan paths and practices that fit them.

Originally posted on The Lefthander's Path:

Wrong Country: It doesn’t matter if our ancestors didn’t all come to the United States (& various other colonies) for the specific purpose of enslaving and conquering people, but mostly were trying to escape poverty, famine, war or religious/political persecution. Or came here as slaves, prisoners or indentured servants. It doesn’t matter how long our families have lived here. We’re invaders. Or “settlers”, I guess that’s a little nicer. OK, we’ve realized that we messed up. Or someone else did, and we benefited from it. So we’re going to “decolonize” now. It sounds very enlightened and progressive. Wait, does this mean we need to move back to Europe? Black folks have to move back to Africa. (Tried that already, by the way) And so forth. Or is it OK that we stay here, so long as we admit that we have no right to be…

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30 Days of Deity Devotion: Misconceptions and Faith

27) Worst misconception about this deity that you have encountered

I’m always very surprised when ‘hard’ polytheists will talk in one breath about how annoying it is when deities are conflated, and in the next will talk about ‘the Cailleach’ in a very archetypal way. People who see all gods as separate beings will routinely conflate the myths of many different areas of Ireland and Scotland about Cailleachean. Despite her (other) name, Baoi is not the same as them. There’s been cross-pollination of myths, and I don’t know exactly what that means for the deities in question. But they’re not exactly the same, by any means.

I think there are a few reasons for this conflation of figures. One is that some scholars who have collected folklore about Cailleachean don’t seem to care much where each comes from. Another is that many of the recons working with this material are taking it very literally, along with interpretations. Another is that many Pagans love the ‘winter crone’ archetype of the Scottish Cailleach.

But the worst thing, for me, is when people privilege written myths referencing ‘the’ Cailleach, over local folklore about different Cailleachean. For example, there’s not much in writing about the story, from the Beara peninsula, that Cailleach Bhearra is married to Manannan mac Lir. But the myth exists. There are a couple of references to this (literally) in a very few books. But go to the area, and you’ll hear that tale a lot. Is it recent or ancient? I’ve no idea. I love it, though.

Similarly, because she’s not referenced in myth, it’s hard to find out about Dovinia, the ancestor-goddess of the Corcu Duibnhe tribe, who I think of as a sister of Cailleach Bhearra (which is sort of hinted at, but very hard to prove, in local folklore). Her name is on Ogham stones all over the Dingle peninsula. I’m planning to go and spend time at these stones soon. But you can’t read about her in books – not really.

If I spoke Irish and could spend time talking to people who tell stories in the oral tradition there, I would find out even more about the deities of my ancestors, through local folklore. But some things are way beyond me, even though I can visit the area and pick up little things.

Cailleach Bhearra is very much about the land where she is from – the Beara Peninsula. The pan-Irish and pan-Celtic approach erases that. No doubt the same goes for other Cailleachean, who I know much less about.

28) Something you wish you knew about this deity but don’t currently

So many things. I wish I knew if she was ever honoured as a goddess, or was only ever a figure in stories. I wish I knew how she was honoured as a deity, if she was. I wish I knew if she had customs and festivals and practices associated with her and her followers. I wish I could speak enough Irish to hear more of her stories, the ones that haven’t been written down by the scholars – and I suspect there are many of those.

But I’m also glad I don’t know some of those things. Is there anything more enchanting than a mystery? Is there anything more exciting than the necessity of faith?

29) Any interesting or unusual UPG to share?

Heh. The whole of this series has involved a lot of imbas and personal experience of Cailleach Bhearra. I hope I’ve done an OK job of saying where I get my impressions of her – whether from myth, from local folklore and tales, or from my own imbas.

And I hope I’ve sparked some interest in honouring her. She should be much more well-known and much more widely honoured than she is.

Hail, Baoi!

Dursey Island/Baoi Bhearra (once known as Inis Baoi in Irish - an island that shows up in a legend about an old woman and a cow...)

Dursey Island/Baoi Bhearra (once known as Inis Baoi – an island from a myth about an old woman & a cow…)

Hag of Beara stone. Photo by freespiral, flickr

Hag of Beara stone, Beara Peninsula. Photo: freespiral

Tarbh Conraidh, the sacred bull of Baoi/Cailleach Bhearra

Tarbh Conraidh, the bull of Baoi/Cailleach Bhearra

Ruined church on Dursey Island

Ruined church on Dursey Island (Inis Baoi of legend)