31 Days of Offerings – Day 3: Offerings in Exchange

Saturday, and I’m at an old medical centre with completely beautiful grounds, a stream running through them at the bottom of the hill, an overgrown herb garden a home for whole microuniverses of life near the entrance, a delightfully happy rowan tree near the carpark. Urban and rural druids alike would fall in love with this place.

Photo: trees at the edge of a garden wall

Photo: trees at the edge of the garden wall

We were there for a day of contemplative druidry, trying out a range of techniques and practices, all of which I adored and will be trying out as part of my regular practice. Chanting; sitting in silence to invoke the Awen; contemplative reading of the book of nature; connection with the spirits of little things… Lots of fantastic, thought-provoking stuff.

I brought a handful of rowan berries in for one exercise, collected from a search in the long grass beneath the abundant rowan tree. Well, now what do I do with these? I wondered. In my meditation I saw them bouncing down the hill towards the rest of the world (something like in the Ribena Berry advert), delighted to be going somewhere new. I always find the rowan tree delightful. Abundant early autumn joy.

So after meditating with the berries, I did a few things. A few of the berries I threw into the river, an offering of thanks to the local goddess for hosting us with such grace. The rest I took home and they’re now on Cailleach Bhearra’s shrine. Some of these I’ll return to the earth, spreading them as far as I can take them from where they started, like the squirrels and the birds do. A few I’ll string on a rowan cross, as my ancestors did a long time ago — thinking, while I weave them, about why those who came before chose to bring a symbol of autumn life into the house to get them through the winter, and what that might mean for me.

Most offerings I treat in the Irish folk way, burying them. Their toradh, their essence, has been consumed by the gods, we Gaelic polytheists believe, and they are no longer good for us to consume. Yet if you separate that practice from the belief and look at the effect that that practice had on the world, in its time, in a more modern druid-y way, you can see it from the perspective of the nuts and berries. How sometimes the gods smiled on their offerings of rowan and juniper and there grew a sacred grove.

Do ut des – I give that you may give. We uphold rta. And the Xartus, the great tree that is the spine of the universe, continues to grow. Offerings in exchange for offerings.

Photo: Rowan tree. Image by Dave_S (CC, Flickr).

Photo: Rowan tree. Image by Dave_S (CC, Flickr).

Picture: Rowan berries

Photo: Rowan berries

Photo: gorgeously overgrown herb garden

Photo: gorgeously overgrown herb garden

Photo: stream running through the grounds

Photo: stream running through the grounds

31 Days of Offerings – Day 2: What’s the Offering?


Photo: offerings at a shrine incl candles & milk

Second day, and I’m already starting to realise that there’s a big question mark around what the offering is each day.

31 Days of Offerings(1)

Today the offering wasn’t the milk and incense. It wasn’t the candlelight. It wasn’t even the piece of writing that my day unfolded around – not exactly.

It was the… bravery? No, not quite that. The risk and adventure of it, the submission to the forces of chaos and creation, of knowing that writing (and publishing) the post was a massive risk and being unbelievably scared, and still doing it. The spirit of creation, Cailleach Bhéarra-style – the chaos that dies down to reveal transformation and new possibilities. Standing in the way of the hurricane and seeing what happens next.

A goddess of the land doesn’t need the things she’s already created (as much as she sometimes appreciates the effort). I think maybe she’s more interested in what I can create, and co-create with her.

I think it’s going to be an interesting month.

Photo: turbulent waves on the West Cork shore. By Eoin Milner.

Photo: waves on the West Cork shore. By Eoin Milner.

31 Days of Offerings – Day 1: Showing Up Anyway

As a teacher, I have to show up anyway.

31 Days of Offerings(1)

It doesn’t matter if yesterday was a really, really terrible day. Like, bad beyond the telling of it.

It doesn’t matter if you had one crisis after another. It doesn’t matter if all day long you felt like quitting your PhD and getting on a plane to the mountains. It doesn’t matter if you suffered through a social gathering, got on the wrong bus home, had a very intense autistic meltdown on the traffic island in the middle of the A51, and had to be rescued by your ever long-suffering partner.

It doesn’t matter if the meltdown continued till midnight and you were awake most of the night.

It doesn’t matter if this morning you look like complete crap and feel like it too. It doesn’t matter that you have a migraine that feels like someone is drilling into your skull. It doesn’t matter.

When 9am comes around, and you have a Research Methods class to co-teach, you still go to the classroom. You focus on the students. You ‘pass’ as a bloody good teacher.

And sometimes, in the passing, you become.

Yesterday was a terrible, terrible day. Today wasn’t a whole lot better. I still showed up at Cailleach Bhearra’s altar and made an offering tonight.

Sometimes, in the doing, I become.

Here’s to showing up anyway.

31 Days of Offerings

The 31 Days blog project is simple. You blog about one topic for 31 days. The aim is that you explore it in detail, looking at lots of aspects of the topic. I’ve decided to link mine with a practice, and write about all the permutations and aspects of that practice that emerge. And so…

31 Days of Offerings(1)

Image: rock at Allihies, associated with the Children of Lir. Offerings of pennies cover it. Words written over it: “31 Days of Offerings”.

…31 Days of Offerings.

Day 1: Showing Up Anyway
Day 2: What’s the Offering?
Day 3: Offerings in Exchange

My expectation is that these offerings will be focused around Cailleach Bhearra. However, what she wants as offerings is a complex matter, so I already know that it won’t stay simply a ‘put an apple on the altar’ thing – although I’ll start there. But I suspect offerings to other entities will also pop up during the course of the month.

My aim is to explore the concept of ‘offerings’ in detail. What are offerings – both in Gaelic polytheism and in modern druidry? What can come under the banner of ‘offerings’? What do the gods and spirits really want from us?

See you on the 1st of October!

[If you want to find out more about the Mythical Children of Lir Site at Allihies, this blog is a wonderful resource for all things Beara Peninsula!]

STOP QUOTING THE POLICY AT ME! (Or: Your Piece of Paper Doesn’t Exclude Me Any Less)

I am so tired of having ‘the policy’ quoted at me.

This year I wanted to attend Autscape. I am tired, so tired, of daily trying to fight my way into the neurotypical world. I was excited about an event that puts autistic people at the centre, makes itself accessible to all autistic and neurodivergent people.

Then I found out it wasn’t fully accessible to wheelchair users.

OK, I thought. Maybe I can make it work for me. Maybe I can be creative, work around issues, with the help of the organising committee who will no doubt support me with information and help.

Then I found out that it’s their policy to focus on wheelchair accessibility only ever other year, to keep costs down the other year. And the familiar disappointment kicked in. And I just… gave up.

I found it a little ironic that the theme of this year’s Autscape was ‘creating autistic space’. Autistic space that excludes certain autistic people. And that when I talked with a delegate over twitter about a session running there on the subject of exclusion in the autistic community, I was told that wheelchair accessibility had already been discussed (with the hint that it would not be discussed again). While the person no doubt meant the comment helpfully, it was a reminder that even in discussions about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’, a whole excluded group has already been ‘dealt with’ and the conversation there has ended.

All because of a policy.

To quote an email I sent to a friend today:

I told my wheelchair-using autistic friend about this and she wondered how the autistic community would feel about a neurodiversity conference that wasn’t accessible to autistic people every other year. Despite the fact that everyone is quoting the bloody policy at me every time I bring this up, telling me that it will be accessible next year is not good enough… I sobbed my way through reading the Autscape twitter feed this year. And deleted a tweet complaining about access because I worried I’d get shouted at. Really sucks.

Pagan Parallels

I’ve talked a lot, mostly on my other blog, about inaccessibility in the Pagan community. It continues without much sign of improvement, especially in London. The excuse gets rolled out a lot when I complain – whatever the excuse is, whether needing privacy for discussion, or the inaccessibility of pubs in London, or (funniest of all) that no wheelchair users ever come to the events. (Really?! No wheelchair users come to events held in an upstairs room? You do surprise me!)

For the past couple of years I’ve also been struggling with OBOD‘s approaches to accessibility and policies about certain disability issues. (More on that later when I feel up to discussing it, and maybe at Gods and Radicals soon.) Once again, it’s not so much the existence of the policy that’s the problem (although it is a problem). Worse is the way that people respond every. single. time. I mention it. “This is the reason for the policy! Learn about the policy! It is a good policy!”

Brick walls, and communal dismissive attitudes, and regrouping protectively around the boundaries of your organisation. These are the very definition of exclusion.

Please Stop Quoting the Policy At Me: Some Effects of Brick-Wall Exclusionary Policy-Citing

It’s one thing for something to be inaccessible or exclusionary. It’s quite another for you to have enshrined that inaccessibility in a policy – and then to constantly quote that policy at me as justification for your inaccessibility. I know there’s usually a reason for inaccessibility. I know it’s sometimes a really good reason. Can we please assume that, as an informed disability rights campaigner, I already know the reason, disagree with it, and would like to move on to talking about ways forward, alternatives that might include me and people like me? Instead, though, I meet the brick wall of a hundred people quoting the policy whenever I mention access difficulties. Or saying things at me like “This has been discussed before,” as though that solves the problem. Somehow, never an apology. Never a “Here’s what we’re in the process of doing to try and fix this, longer-term.” Never even an acknowledgement that this is a problem, a policy of exclusion, an example of disability oppression. Always the justification. Always the assertion that they are right, and that I am the one with the problem.

As a result, I feel excluded from your community. (Which becomes your community, not mine anymore.) I increasingly withdraw from your events, including those that are fully accessible. I become avoidant about talking to people from your group about access at future events. I become scared of your group. Mentions of it start to be upsetting to me. Your group stops representing safe space, and starts representing exclusion and oppression.

I Keep Offering Help…

I don’t have a lot of  free time. The time I do have is spent dividing up my tasks (PhD, other work, volunteering in many ways, personal life) against my spoons, trying to eke them out into something that approximates a rewarding life. Yet I will always respond to inaccessibility with an offer to help fix it – usually for free. Consider taking me up on this. I charge private organisations around £250 per half day for this help. If I’ve offered you help to fix something, you’re being offered something valuable from a trained and experienced Disability Equality Trainer and widely-published writer on the subject. If you turn me down, and then get taken to court by someone with more determination than me, and find yourselves unable to say you’ve done anything, you might start wishing you’d accepted the help. (I’m talking mainly to the dozens of Pagan orgs and groups I’ve offered help to, here.)

There’s a related question, too: how far do I have a responsibility to fight these things? Can I belong to OBOD when I know that one of their policies, and other of their accessibility practices, are problematic for entire swathes of the disabled community? Can I go to Autscape knowing that their policy is to exclude wheelchair users every other year? In both cases, the policies do exist for really good reasons, in one case (Autscape) with the aim of not excluding others (people living in poverty). Intersectionality is complex, and the real world is a complicated place. So what is my responsibility to campaign and fight here? Do I have a personal obligation to fight and campaign? And how does that affect my right, and need, to live as ordinary a life as possible? (I need spiritual practices/groups that make me happy and I need safe autistic spaces. Am I allowed them, as a campaigner with integrity?)

Accessibility Has More To Do With Imagination Than Money

Yes, accessibility can (sometimes) be expensive.

Yes, inclusive policies can open you up to other kinds of legal issues.

You can still make change, with enough imagination. Druid Camp is working with me on making their camp more accessible for more disabled people. If they can manage that in an empty field, you can change a few things with a little creative thought.

And by accepting help from those who offer it.

And by not shouting people down, but instead being willing to listen and change.

Final Thought: A World of Disappointment

For me, my experience as I engage with an inaccessible society is one of consistent disappointment. I meet disappointment about 80% of the time that I want to do something other people can do. And I am disappointed in people I want to think better of.

I would like to live in a world in which I experienced a little less disappointment.

And this is why we fight.


I’ve recently been writing about exclusion from universities and churches, in relation to my research, for a creative research journal that’s coming out soon. I’ll link to it here when it’s out.

I’ve set up a Facebook group for marginalised Pagans from minority, oppressed and excluded groups. Do join if you fall into that category. I’d like to get allies together to work on some of these issues.

Cross-posted to my non-Pagan, campaigning blog. Because the lines between spiritual experience and civil rights are fuzzy.

Modern Gods and Urban Druids

On one of the Pagan online forums where I hang out, someone asked how old gods think about new technologies, and whether they think about them at all. This was an Awen-moment for me. Here’s the reply I wrote.

I guess there are two ways of thinking of this (or maybe more and I’ve only thought of two!) In American Gods, the old gods are fighting new gods – of technology, computers, TV, modern music, etc. The old gods don’t understand either these new things, or the gods of them. That’s the school of thought that says that the gods are from the old world (literally, in the case of American Gods) and can’t understand the new world.

Another approach, though, might be to realise that, even though we see the world as changing very fast because we’re in the centre of it now, maybe the world doesn’t change that fast, from the viewpoint of someone who sees things very differently. Maybe the people who worked with that new-fangled bronze wondered whether the gods could keep up with them – and thousands of years later, humanity is just sliding from one form of tools (technologies) to another, with old deities seeing it all as the folly of humanity – or the fun of us, maybe.

From that perspective, I see some of the gods as cheerfully taking on new technologies of all kinds. I imagine Mercury as taking gleeful charge of IT and modern communication technology (while having fun dropping Skype calls and prompting us to send those emails that we immediately regret once we press ‘send’). I can see Morrighan enjoying digital tarot decks and oracular ipod playlists, thinking that she could have done with these at the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh. Ogma seems to enjoy my forays into scholarship just as much when I’m researching via Google Scholar and using Dragon Dictate to write my papers as when I’m in old musty libraries or writing with ink fountain pens. (Though he does seem to be a fan of the British Library.) I imagine Airmed and Brighid enjoying modern healthcare and medical treatments very much. I have no doubt that Camulus (Brythonic war god) is very impressed by nuclear weapons and unmanned drones. Taranis (god of the wheel and thunder) might enjoy cars and rock concerts. Hard to say whether Epona and Macha like modern horse-racing – they probably either adore putting money on the horses, or worry about their safety too much. Lugh must love football and test cricket and the iron man contest. I suspect Coventina protects the canal systems and waterways of Britain, looking after the exploited, insecure people who live on barges and house-boats. Maybe Elen of the Ways looks after our motorway system and you can meet her at bleak service stations all the way up the M1, if you look hard enough.

I used to wish I was more of a classic Pagan, liking crafts or playing lots of musical instruments or dancing all the time. I’m increasingly accepting that my love of technology and the modern world is not a bad thing. As an urban druid (TM), it works for me, sort of as the vehicle for my path. I’m already setting up online groups for Pagans who like that sort of thing, and I’m thinking that I need to go further with my tech-happiness and get good at things like doing readings online, and adapting old hoodoo workings to computer-based life, and online rituals and what have you. I’m not an olde worlde Pagan, and I don’t think my gods are olde worlde gods either. (It helps that I’m dedicated to a very chaotic deity who’s just as happy to interrupt my life technologically as she is doing it the old fashioned way.)

…I may need to start make offerings to Mercury and to Brighid of the Forge before using my computer…

– Leithin Cluan, worshiping the gods through her iPhone since 2010.

What do you think? Which modern gods have dominion over modern art, iPhone app development, or live indie music? Which of them help insecure temp workers on minimum wage and invisible exploited child workers in the overseas factories that churn out our clothes? Which of them seek justice for the black people killed by police in the US, or for families killed eating their breakfast, their house flattened thanks to mistaken intelligence reports?

And how can both ancient and modern gods inspire our own campaigning, struggles for justice, and efforts to survive in an increasingly hostile modern world? I’m wondering if there’s a god who has taken responsibility for the victims of disability hate crime, who I could call on when I’m going down the street on my scooter and being shouted at about benefit scrounging. Or if there are old gods of migrants helping desperate people in new migrant camps at Calais, guiding us to be their hands and feet as we search helplessly for ways to bring change when anything we could do would be illegal – and rewarding those who do find ways to help.

I’m thinking about which gods I could call on in these days of complex life in the city. Cities where the problems are the same as they ever were – hate, greed, exploitation, injustice, violence, poverty, wars for capital and resources. Are we so different from our ancestors in Roman cities and Celtic tribes? Are our gods so different?

Urban druid seeks new blessings from old gods.