31 Days of Offerings – Day 23-26: Shying Away from The Great Offering

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I have the gall to whine at a goddess about my difficulties resolving concepts of ‘Pagan’ and concerns about many, many of the practices of that community, and to wonder whether my strategy from here on in should be silence.

And my Lady, who has called me to tell her stories and speak her name, came to me as a mighty giantess walking along the shore of Oileán Baoi in the early dawn, the hills of her island rising dark and strange behind her, the cold and death and rebirth of a coming November blowing the first winds of a storm across the dark water.

The shores of Oileán Baoi, island of the goddess now known as Cailleach Bhearra

The shores of Oileán Baoi, island associated with the goddess now known as Cailleach Bhearra

And she said…

Do you think you are a daughter of a queen? Are you from the tribe of great, remembered gods, their stories preserved by monks and monarchs? Do you speak of the chiefs and kings in your lineage, the castles your family lived in, the great wars they fought in, the great deeds they did?

No. You run with the wild spirits of the most isolated, sidelined, liminal land in Ireland, with its poorest, most marginalized of people. You do not boast of ancestors with kingly lineage. You speak of the horrific suffering of your people: the good, very ordinary farmers, victims of famine and war and oppression, those whose backs were broken as the great, remembered men of Ireland climbed over them to reach their powerful place, and ate their food, and whose names they did not remember. Of the soldiers who fought the great wars the great myths tell tale of, whose deeds are ascribed to other, greater men, and whose names are not remembered. Of the women who watched their many, many children die, in famine and pestilence and at the brutal hands of English landlords, and carried on, whose names are not remembered. Of the road through the mountains that you love, that was built to carry food in one direction and bring coffins back, carrying the bodies of those whose names are not remembered.

And even their stories are forgotten.

The memorial to famine victims at the top of the Healy Pass, the road through the mountains between Cork and Kerry. Once called the Kerry Pass, re-named for the first president of the Irish Free State. Photo: Sludge G (CC).

Memorial to famine victims at the top of the Healy Pass, the road through the mountains between Cork and Kerry. Once called the Kerry Pass, re-named for first president of Irish Free State. Photo: Sludge G. (CC).

And this is the way you chose to walk.

Then how dare you be embarrassed of the name you choose call yourself or the community you choose to draw around you?

And how dare you be ashamed of a goddess whose stories are so deeply buried in the landscape that few remember her name? When few know of her sacred sites, or the stories of her cow and her lobster and her harvest, or have heard the songs the mountains sing in whispers about her? When many roll her lazily into the stories of her more renowned sisters, and forget the name of the One she is married to, and forget her island, and her mountainous country, and her dark shores? When so many do not remember her name?

You are here to tell the unheard tales. The tales of the oppressed, those whom society crushes beneath their endless, vicious race to the top. The stories of the desperate, the despairing, the dying, the lost. The many who serve the few. Whose names are not remembered.

Then open your mouth and speak.

The long dark is coming, and my picture of a dark figure plunging a staff into the ground needs to move into the living room. It is not a picture of Her. And yet it is.

And her name will be remembered, by those who choose to listen for it.

31 Days of Offerings – Days 6-11: Simple Steps Forward

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Day 6-7: Keeping it Simple

Water. Whisky. Showing up.

Water. Whisky. Showing up.

Well water for the well spirits, the harvest deities whose time has passed. Their shrine will stand empty for the winter soon. I listen for St Gobnait, the bee woman whose court is leaving the land. I let Latiaran’s flame burn down.

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Water. Whisky. Showing up.

Somewhere, in the depths of the ‘rinse repeat’, the universe shifts.

A dark goddess in a dark room, lighting up a flaming spiral path. October is her time of chaos, and so, my chaotic month too. “November,” after all, “is the time of my birth”*.

Days 8-9: Moving Forward a Step

The days are stressful, anxious, uncontained. I am learning that daily offerings are a touchstone. The lighting of the hearth fire was at the heart of the daily struggle of my ancestors. The lighting of a candle on the hearth altar can be mine. Not so different. We have humanity in common, huddled around our fires that come from the same source.

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One of my hearth shrines. Icons and symbols for Brigantia; Our Lady Breaker of Chains; and St Brendan. (It’s a bit of an ancestral mix.)

Days 10-11: Offerings to Me

Our friend has just had her second baby, but still has time to bake us a little cake to say ‘congratulations’ on our marriage. We share mutual offerings of time and hospitality – the most precious things in the world.

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SJ enjoying some very good hospitality.

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Cake!

And in a work context, a very unexpected prophecy from a servant of a now-foreign god (to whom my Wyrd may always be tied). I have just sat through a church service for fieldwork, irritated, wondering what the point of my being there is. But it mattered to someone that I was there. She holds back right until I’m standing at my car, then out pours a tumble of divine words of pure imbas – words that speak deeply into my Work.

On the way home I think about my offerings to the world, which go beyond religion, beyond tradition, even beyond gods. And how the world gives back, and nothing goes truly unnoticed.

*From ‘Cailleach: the Hag of Beara’ by Leanne O’Sullivan.

You know me? You don’t know me

I am not a reconstructionist.

There. I said it. I feel better now, I think.

I was strongly drawn to reconstructionism in the beginning. It seems so academic. (The fact that most academics would find what reconstructionists do rather… inaccurate and confusing, is an entirely different issue.) It seems so clear. Got questions about a deity? The answers are out there, waiting to be uncovered by (usually amateur) archeologists/linguists/folklorists/mythicists.

Except they aren’t. And I feel, increasingly, that this is not a way to do religion or spirituality.

I love looking for clues in the stories of the land. My deities can all be spotted there, or at least, shadows of them – including Baoi (Beara), Dovinia/Duibhne (of the Corca Dhuibhne people), and the Three Sisters (Lasair, Latiaran and Gobnait-who-is-sometimes-Inghean Buidhe-or-sometimes she’s-one-of-the-others-and-sometimes-she’s-Crobh-Derg). But they are, as you can see even when I just try to say their names, not all that easy to pin down. The Three Sisters are deeply rooted in the land around Cork and Kerry, and if you ask the locals about St Latiaran, they will know who you mean, and they will tell you stories about her that you’ve never heard before. But these deities also have precedents across the water and across Ireland. Does that make them any less local? No. It makes them a far bigger mystery than they first seem. The clues are there, but they will slip out of your hands when you try to grasp them. Continue reading

The Age of the Hermit

“You shall go with me, newly married bride,  
And gaze upon a merrier multitude;  
White-armed Nuala, Aengus of the birds,  
Feacra of the hurtling foam, and him  
Who is the ruler of the Western Host,  
Finvarra, and their Land of Heart’s Desire,  
Where beauty has no ebb, decay no flood,  
But joy is wisdom, Time an endless song.  
I kiss you and the world begins to fade.”

– From The Land of Heart’s Desire by WB Yeats

I had a strange dream last night.

It was bin day, and I was sitting outside with the rubbish bags. (I don’t know why.) The bin men came and picked me up with the rubbish. This led to my sad demise. The thing was, nothing actually changed. Everyone could still see me and talk to me. I ran around trying to persuade everyone that I was, in fact, dead, and could someone please do something about it? A funeral or an investigation, maybe? “That Naomi,” a friend of mine said to another friend, while I was within earshot. “Always the attention-seeker. This time it’s death, is it? Typical.” Continue reading

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. Continue reading

30 Days for An Chailleach Bhéarra: Helping and Not Helping

24) A time when this deity has helped you

I wrote a whole post about being rescued from an unexpected snowstorm in Cumbria here. Bhéarra isn’t usually into the helping – she’s much more about teaching you to stand on your own two feet – but sometimes, when the situation is ironically ‘her’ enough, she laughs and helps.

25) A time when this deity has refused to help

Oh, so many times. Like I say, she’s about teaching you to stand on your own two feet. Or, in my case, to get on your own mobility scooter. :P

Based on my imbas, she’s not a deity you go to when you want help, when you want someone to intervene and take your troubles away. She sees the long view, from up on the mountain top. She knows that chaos is at the heart of nature, and that nothing would ever change or grow or be created anew without it. Crows and ants feast on dead foxes. A flooding river finds a new course. The seed breaks open and begins to grow.

Duibhne, on the other hand, helps and guides. I wrote the little story about the Lady of the Mountain and her sister, the Mother of the Tribe, illustrating this idea. I’m not someone who can sit in the sheltered embrace of a motherly god forever – but I appreciate it when I can’t be doing with the harshness of the queen of the wild for the moment.

26) How has your relationship with this deity changed over time?

She’s become ever more demanding, asking more and more of me. And I think that’s the way it should be. You don’t serve a deity by paying them lip-service and not doing the Work.

Find the rest of this blog project here.

Slí na Fírinne*: Imbas

*’The Way of Truth’.

“What’s UPG?” asked my friend, after a grove ritual a few weeks ago.

I’d been basking in the midsummer sun, dancing with the fae, honouring Aine of the Summer Sun in all her glory. The imbas was flowing.

“What’s UPG?” My answer was halting and not accurate. All at once I realised: I don’t really know, and I don’t really care. Continue reading