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…

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…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.

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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)

 

Sovereignty… and Hugs

This may be one of the most honest posts I’ve ever written. Since the theme of the moment seems to be ‘honourable communication’, though…

I hate hugging. Can we just start there?

OK, and now that we’ve got that out of the way.

At Druid Camp (which was wonderful, and I’m going to write about soon), there was a closing ritual at the end. It closed with “Let the hugging begin!”

As a person with Asperger’s, I spend most of my life trying to fake happiness about things that don’t make me happy, with the aim of making other people comfortable. People are hugging? I must join in, to make everyone else happy! Don’t let other people feel uncomfortable! Even if you end up sobbing in your tent for hours later on! (Which is why, by the way, no one ever realises I have Asperger’s, or that I’m uncomfortable in a situation. I’m incredibly talented at covering it up. I’m a star, y’know! :P )

Well, this time I decided not to let myself end up sobbing in my tent afterwards. I did what NLP calls an ‘ecology check’ – a quick check on how you feel internally – and I made a quick decision. I was not up to hugging today.

For me, Druid Camp was both highly empowering and very difficult. Getting around a field when you can’t walk properly is not nearly as difficult, for me, as spending five days in the constant presence of *other people*. (I used the Quiet Tent a LOT. I escaped to the edges of the field a lot.) It’s quite hard to explain what that can do to a person with Asperger’s. (At least, not without someone coming in and saying “That doesn’t mean you have Asperger’s! That means you’re normal!” — a response which can be deeply upsetting for the person trying to explain how they are struggling very badly with something.)

So instead of that, let’s take the label away, and just do a thought experiment. Imagine that you love people. You really love them – they’re so interesting, and funny, and exciting, and they inspire so much joy in you. You want to be around them, to get to know them, to take joy in their diverse amazing wonderfulness. They make you want to bounce up and down a lot and give them balloons.

And now imagine that you’re also terrified of them. At the same time that you adore them. You can have huge panic attacks just from being around other people, especially those you don’t know, especially in large numbers. You don’t know how to act around them, even though you want them to like and appreciate you, too. Coming up to people is a big act of courage, every time – even people you know well. And hugging is only something you want to do with people you know really well and trust completely. But how do you balance that with wanting to fit in, to do what you’re supposed to do, and never, ever make other people uncomfortable?

That day, instead of hugging, I did a little ‘namaste’-type bow, of the type that my father (New Age as he is) often does. It was all I could think of on the spot, to say “I like you and I honour you and I thank you for being you” without hugging. It wasn’t joyful enough, though. (Any ideas on other, more joyful non-huggy things I could do would be wonderful!) But it was the best I could do on the spot.

When someone makes you uncomfortable because they seem a bit different, even quite suddenly and surprisingly – if they have trouble understanding what you’re saying sometimes, or if they need to leave a situation because it’s too difficult for them, or if they communicate in slightly odd ways, or if they don’t want to hug – try to remember that they aren’t doing it for attention, or because they’re stupid, or because they’re not trying hard enough. It can be very difficult to stand up for yourself in these situations, to say “These are my boundaries, and I will assert them.” But believe me, I’m showing that I respect you – and myself – a great deal more when I stop pretending to be what I think you want me to be, and start to become fully empowered in who I am.

The Sovereignty Goddesses of ancient Ireland empowered the King to rule, hand-in-hand with the land. Today, we may see a need for Sovereignty more in our own lives, when our power is regularly taken away from us by a society that would often rather we were not being who we are. Because it can be a bit uncomfortable for other people. But here I am, hand-in-hand with the Goddess of the Land, who whispers “You are a very powerful being”. I hold my own sovereignty. My own boundaries. My own power over my life. And I laugh, and I bow to you.

What would you do differently that would be a fuller expression of who you are, if you could stop worrying about how others would respond?

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Hmm. This was going to be a post where I tried to make a start at exploring the concept of equality. I think I’ll have to come back to that another day, though.