A Pagan carol… for Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah…

This is a first draft, and too long, (and as yet untitled), but I had to post it on Christmas Eve. (And now, I am setting up for Hanukkah. Before I hopefully make it to Midnight Mass. Seriously!)

What is this Star
that sits on the horizon in the east?
That burns in eyes of pilgrims from a distant land
who loved a thousand gods,
but, captivated, still left everything to follow this one Light.

What is this Star,
that flares across the sky in westward trace?
Solar wildfire obsessing three magicians
(who know their astrological events,
their Leo Rising from their Sagittarius),
who seek mysteries yet unilluminated.

What is this Star
that breaks my heart with calling me,
Once every year, away from your dark mountain?
Your face is veiled, my Lady, and I cannot see an end to night.

What is this Light?
Brought into great stone buildings made brilliant with candlelight,
Brought out in dazzling colours to streets that never sat in sacred dark.
And beyond, illuminating the eternal flame.
And what does this child mean, who blazes in the midst of it?

And you, Lady –
You are not the Light to kill this darkness.
You’re the drawing deeper into it,
The blackness in the heart of it,
The calm within the storm of it.
Nor are you the Way out of this wilderness –
You are the getting lost upon the hill of it,
The terror in the night of it,
The long walk to the dawn of it.
No fisherman will walk on water in the search for you
(though he that drowns may find you in the final wave).
And you will not turn over tables in the temple courts,
(our own injustices and consequences will be ours),
And you will not be born among us
(will not redeem us from the monsters that we have become).
You are not the light to kill this Darkness –
You are the Mystery it carries in its heart.

…And yet there is this Star.

So let me go, my Lady, just for one night,
To retread a childhood path to this one Light,
to leave the temple of a thousand gods
to seek the One.
Let me join a caravan that navigates by starlight,
to go with them to places where I once before
sang promises of peace and love and light
(although soon smouldering and all burnt out).
Let me seek a blazing child,
who, for one night, is lost in the wild dark places too,
sleeping in the straw.

And if he will not let me come inside the stable
Then I will sit with shepherds on the hillsides,
feel an early morning desert wind,
listen to an angel’s song,
and sit in celestial rays.
In the seeking there will still be Light.

So, Lady, send me with a message for a foreign god –
who hosts his guest with such welcoming fire in the hearth –
and I will tell him I belong to wilderness,
and it will always call me back to you.
You know I can’t stay long in well-lit places,
will not linger late in temples built of stone,
shut out from Solstice dawn and Beltane fire.
There are wanderers in the desert,
there are souls lost on the hillside,
there are lonely spirits waiting in the gloom,
seeking not a Light to kill the darkness
but your labyrinth path into the heart of it.

So I will seek this Star tonight,
but leave my soul at the wild altar of a wilder goddess –
And she will call me home to mountainsides
when I have had enough of Light.

– Leithin Cluan, Christmas Eve 2016

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Happy Samhain. Happy ‘Year of Less’.

The sun’s down – so blessed Oíche Shamhna to you. :)

This afternoon, rushing home (with a bag full of apples) in a tightly-timed attempt to ensure I was indoors before dark, I started pondering how I’ve developed this strange mix of Samhain customs over the past six or seven years. In my attempt at developing my own style of Gaelic polytheism, little things start to resonate, inspired by community or folklore (or other places entirely). They become part of the mix. Things like not setting foot outside the bounds of my land from sundown to sun-up on Samhain Eve; burning a candle in the window all night; replacing my Brighid’s cross with a rowan cross for protection through the winter; a sacred fire…

This is a time of the ancestors, but it’s also a time of many other things. The final harvest is brought in; the Good Folk are abroad; Cailleach Bhearra is reborn from stone onto sand; the Nightmare Queen stands with one foot on land and one in water, waiting for the Good God.

Around these central mythic moments turn my Samhain/Lá Samhna customs.

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Hag Stone, Beara Peninsula, Ireland – associated with Cailleach Bhearra

Now comes November.
my birth time, and white ribs of tide
uproot the silence of the bay.

Today I break from stone onto sand,
motherless, my mother a stone
bedding the earth and dreaming my image.

– ‘Birth’, Leanne O’Sullivan

She is reborn. Everything changes.

October is about cleansing, changing, reforming, making ready for Oíche Shamhna (Samhain Eve). Spaces: altars have been redesigned and redecorated. Spirit: Work has been done on lots of things, mostly to do with casting off the old and getting ready to let in the new. Self: I’ve been doing a lot of work to sort out a myriad of health problems this month, have managed to get pretty deep into my thesis draft, and feel like I’m at least plodding on through the swamp, even if it’s all rather a struggle still.

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Oiche Shamhna ritual setup. Will attempt to keep a candle burning all night. It is at least *near* a window!

The Samhain wreath on my door is synthetic – and beautiful, and made by someone else. (I support local and small-scale artists wherever possible.) I’d love it if I had the time (and fine motor control) to make my own. But my hands don’t work well, and I’m spending pretty much every minute I’m awake drafting my PhD (100,000 words due by February). So, purely symbolic it has to be. #MyDisabledPolytheism

I managed to completely fail to collect any rowan today, too, rushed as I was doing other prep. That can be tomorrow, I reckon.

On Oíche Shamhna itself, the most consistent thing I do is putting a candle in the window, to signal to the dead that they may come in and rest. My religious path is offerings-focused, so offerings to the gods, the spirits, the ancestors and the Good Folk are important. So is having a fire, if I can, but I can’t always. (I can try this year.) Everything else will probably be suggested by those whose time of year it is – Morrigan, Dagda, Beara – or it won’t. It can be a good night for divination for the coming year, or sometimes that works better at Midwinter. (I’d love to hear what other Gaelic polytheists do on the night itself, if any are reading…)

I always have a serious time of chaos around this time of year – She is about to be reborn, and so things fall apart before they can come back together in new, more coherent, better ways. Earthquake and fire and blood, before the new landscape emerges. Then, between Oíche Shamhna and Midwinter, things tend to get pleasantly quiet. This year I’m looking forward to that. My poor little mind has been broken for a few months now (hence my absence from online discussion, which is probably going to continue). It wants a rest. (I just got a new medication for anxiety that I’m somewhat hopeful about. I’m asking some relevant saints of health for help with that. We shall see.)

And Happy New Year to those who celebrate Samhain as such. I do, but sort of by accident – since it coincides with the beginning of a new academic year. This is going to be my Year of Less. A year to nurture my barely-flickering little Dark Flame. This is the year where I say No a lot more. This is the year when I say No to being being involved with things where I’m marginalised, or able-splained at constantly, or which cause me anxiety… say No to trying to be something I’m not (yes, I can do this polytheism/Paganism thing entirely my own way)… say Yes to speaking only my truth… and say Yes to creating only things that are honourable and beautiful. I want more time for things I want to do: go to gigs, and take my scooter around the wilder, weirder parts of London, and maybe see people I want to see (but let myself be alone as much as I want to be, without judging my little anti-social self too much). I want to read tarot and Ogham, and play a bit. I want to have my fifth or six attempt at learning Hebrew (you can’t give up till you’re at, like, 20 failures – that is Official). Most of all, I want to write my thesis, and I want to tell people that, No, I don’t have to do things they want me to do that will give me less time for that thesis…

At least, that’s the plan. :P

Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh. Blessings of Samhain to you and yours. Blessings on your ancestors. Blessings on your year to come.

Summer Harvests

It was Lammas at Druid Camp.

Alone, I would usually choose to celebrate Lughnasadh – the festival of Tailtu who created agriculture, of Lugh who prevents the death of the crops and brings the harvest. Summer games and competition and high-energy feats of challenge and pride, in honour of a proud, accomplished god.

But we were together, and it was Lammas.

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The wheat of the Lammas harvest that we were surrounded by at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

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Community-witnessed handfasting at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

Druidry is very much a community-based tradition. If alone I am a Gaelic polytheist with Brythonic leanings, together with these friends I am a Druid in a community of Druids. And only communities can reap a good harvest.

And I thought back to two weeks before, in Ireland with my mother and grandmother, spending most of our time with cousins and other family. I didn’t get much time with the land, with Beara. I did more important things. My harvest was community.

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The view across the hills and down to the sea from the vantage point of my family farmhouse, dating back to my great-grandparents and still at the centre of a small farm worked by my cousins. Beara Peninsula.

I return to posts from American Pagans about rejecting Lughnasadh (by which, in this case, the writer actually means Lammas) because “most Pagans live in the US” (EXCUSE ME?!), the assertion from some corners that modern polytheism is better than modern Paganism, and other culturally imperialist rubbish that starts to bring me down. British Paganism and British Druidry are a minority voice online. Most Americans don’t know about the beautifully non-hierarchical, deeply rooted-in-our-land, strongly community-focused practice that draws from many streams of modern Paganism and other spiritualities that is modern British druidry. The loud voices shouting about their recent conferences, and whose hotel was better, know nothing about the week we spent in a field, overlooking the river of Sabrina and the ancient barrows across the hill, surrounded by sheep, having to build our own community from the ground up (and make it accessible to as many people as possible!), where the success is all the sweeter for how every person contributes in their own way. They don’t know about the talent (that Eisteddfod!), the strength, the love, the mutual acceptance and help and support, the critical thought, and the plain hard work that can bring 200+ very diverse druids together in a field and have them, by the end, become a coherent spiritual community complete with regular dramatic rituals and dances and fires and drinking of mead and telling of stories. So many stories.

Flaming labyrinth at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

Flaming labyrinth at Druid Camp. Photo by Pawl Rouselle.

And that started me thinking about stories, and how the One Reality we all inhabit can be so very different from so many different perspectives. “We don’t need Lughnasadh,” announces someone who sees one side of the story. On the other side of the world, Lammas is the theme for 200 druids in a field surrounded by wheat. The sun at its height but showing the first signs of waning towards its long sleep. Our carefree summers making their way, like a slowly-winding labyrinth, towards Samhain and darkness and change. At the height of summer there is the seed of winter. At the height of life there is the seed of death. That’s what our harvest, here on this insignificant island where modern Paganism was birthed, is all about.

And that’s what our very different stories are all about, too. “I was right, you know, and he was wrong.” Except that right and wrong are forever relative. As a friend of mine said today: “We are all scumbags. We are all saints.” We may want to play the innocent hurt victim or the evil villain – depending on where our self-esteem might be today – but these are stereotypes, archetypes that aren’t useful beyond a certain point. I don’t worship the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone, because these are useful illustrative archetypes, but not necessarily the stories by which I want to live my life. I am neither the villain nor the victim. I am neither the Druid nor the Christian. I am neither the daughter nor the wife. I am neither the sociologist nor the poet nor the seer nor the Gaelic polytheist nor the Pagan nor the wheelchair user nor the stranger nor the friend. I am all these things and more. Truth is bigger than we can imagine.

I am the universe emerging into consciousness, beginning to understand itself. (To slightly misquote Babylon 5.) And how much more am I than stereotypes and archetypes, as a result? I won’t reduce myself or others to one-dimensional pictures. I am stardust, as complex as the winds and as simple as the rain, the sacred legacy of my ancestors, the sacred ancestor of those who come after me.

This is the harvest that I reap.

Happy Lughnasadh. Happy Lammas. May summer and harvest festivals be celebrated forever, the wisdom of our forebears integrated into our new stories. We need the old and we need the new. We need all the sides of the story.

Hail, Lugh! Hail, ancestors!

To Answer a Call

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Photo by looking4poetry (CC).

It’s easy to follow the wave of emotion in a crowd. When I’m on a protest march, with the energy all stirred up by the hundreds or thousands of people speaking in one voice with me, then it’s easy to take a stand. No one’s going to push through the crowd to tell me that I’m wrong. I’m safe among allies.

But after the stirring demonstration, after I go home, when I’m all alone and faced with decisions… What do I do then?

What does it mean to change your life in response to the call of a deity? What does it mean to answer a call to change the world for her? Continue reading

Brigid of the Fire

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We’re living in a slightly problematic flat at the moment. (Fortunately we’re also moving soon.) The light in the hallway blew a couple of weeks ago, for about the fourth time since we moved in – we’ve given up replacing the bulb now. Meanwhile, the kitchen currently appears to be haunted, with the fluorescent light in there doing a good impression of a badly-wired disco. And then there’s the damp. It’s really, really damp. Continue reading

Z is for… Messing With Zeitgeibers

Zeitgeiber: any external or environmental cue that entrains, or synchronizes, an organism’s biological rhythms to the earth’s 24-hour light/dark cycle and 12 month cycle…
– Wikipedia

I stayed up all night last night, for the first time for many years (since way back when I had a much healthier body). I got through the Cauldron forum‘s ‘Up All Night’ solstice vigil solely thanks to good company, good music, and some calculated messing with my zeitgeibers. Continue reading