On Speaking and Not Speaking

Recently I’ve been thinking about what I make public and what I keep private. In the past I’ve scoffed, a bit, at the ‘keep silent’ answer of the Sphinx, that fourth bit of wisdom that Thelemics, Wiccans and others hold dear. I don’t hold with the late modern idea that religion should be kept out of the public sphere. Religion is culture. Religion is life. Many paganisms, and perhaps especially Gaelic polytheism, are woven into every aspect of life, both private and public. Singing prayers as you light fires in the morning; walking the bounds of your land to claim it as your own; Bealtaine fires to cleanse cattle and (today) ourselves.

But there are aspects of some paganisms that it may be better to keep silent about. I refuse to talk about magic, for example, except with people who are close to me (and then I’m careful). And sometimes, saying or doing anything puts you in the path of what the Irish called the Evil Eye – e.g. from people who don’t like it when others gain any kind of attention, and who might do things in response to that.

And then, some things need to be somewhat public. When you pray to St Expedite, it’s important that you share his name and spread his fame. People used to put his name in the paper. I pondered what the modern equivalent of that was, and came up with twitter and blogs – so here’s my acknowledgement of the generosity of St Expeditus (I hear that you never say his name the same way twice). He also likes flowers and pound cake – I had to substitute what we call Madeira Cake, as we don’t have that – but he seemed OK with the exchange. He came through for me. Blessings on you, St Expedite, who gets things done in a hurry.

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Image: improvised temporary shrine to St Expeditus, with his picture, flowers and sponge cake.

I’ve been doing some Work that’s definitely for my eyes only, recently. And pondering the paradox of how to write about that in places where it’s helpful to talk about what I’m doing, but where I know it will be seen, probably by those who don’t need to know what I’m doing… See, this is tricky :P I also got into some trouble not too long ago with some people who didn’t have the best of intentions, who (among other things) linked my public, academic profile with my personal, Pagan one. Their intention was to do me harm across all the spheres of my life. I don’t hide who I am – at the moment, it’s not difficult to get from here to my public persona. I’ve had to ponder how to address that. Password protected posts? Writing more in places where posts can be locked to a small audience? Neither of those sits very well with me, given the purposes of this blog.

No, I think the answer may be more related to the concept of ‘hiding in plain sight’. Which is again one that some Wiccans love, and that I’ve scoffed at a bit. But when I had important people over to the house recently, and had to look at what I was hiding in plain sight – Brighid’s cross above the door, altars that look like trinkets and pictures, my door sign a clear boundary between my place of Work and the rest of the house, and so on – it occurred to me that this, too, is Gaelic polytheist practice. The ordinary fire blessed in the quiet of dawn. The rowan cross that looks like decoration. The bit of butter left behind the house for the Good Folk. The whispered prayer as you craft an amulet that looks like a piece of thread.

It’s all important – especially for those who live in the liminal places.

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Image: door sign – “Away with the fairies”

31 Days of Offerings – Day 15: Wise Justice and the Authentic Self

31 Days of Offerings(1)

The Ogham fid I’ve been pondering during this week’s offerings has been nGéadal, which I associate with wounded healers.

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Something has clicked in my head between the concept of the wounded healer, and the idea of living as a more authentic version of myself. Brighid, as the goddess of wise justice, has started to become associated with this idea in my head.

The wounded healer is an interesting archetype in mythology, especially if you read the lame smith that way (hail Wayland Smith, hail Hephaestus). Other legendary healers are flawed. Healing (which is not the same as cure – it’s much more interesting than that) can come from deep knowledge of pain, from exploration of the darkest corners of the universe.

For quite a few years I tried to be quiet about my struggles, and about oppression and social justice, trying to keep those parts of my life separate from my Paganism (as though spirituality can ever be separate from other parts of our lives, and especially not from issues of justice). But that leads to an inauthenticity that can be suffocating.

I fight a lot of battles in my life. More than that, though, I choose my battles (and reject many more). I can’t fight them all… but I have to fight some, or I will let the darkness overcome me. And then I’ll be no good to anyone. The question is how to be wise with the choices of battles, and authentic and true to myself and my values in the process.

What is a wounded healer, and how can she be true to herself without drowning? And is this, too, an offering?

Polly the Sensible, and a Map for the Journey

“Stop,” said Polly. “Aren’t we going to mark this pool?”
They stared at each other and turned quite white as they realised the dreadful thing that Digory had just been going to do. For there were any number of pools in the wood, and the pools were all alike and the trees were all alike, so that if they had once left behind the pool that led to our own world without making some sort of landmark, the chances would have been a hundred to one against their ever finding it again.

– The Magician’s Nephew

She was quite as brave as he about some dangers (wasps, for instance), but she was not so interested in finding out things nobody had ever heard of before; for Digory was the sort of person who wants to know everything, and when he grew up he became the famous Professor Kirke who comes into other books.

– The Magician’s Nephew

Continue reading

N is for… Names

True names. From Rumpelstiltskin, to the Jewish concept of not speaking the name of God, to the Doctor – we have a lot of mythic and cultural precedent for associating names with power.

I’ve never liked the name I was given at birth. It means ‘pleasant’. How dull is that? I grew up wanting a name that meant something exciting.

For a long time, on the internet, I’ve used the name ‘Sophia Catherine’. Catherine is one of my legal middle names, and St Catherine of Alexandria is my patron saint (her with the wheel) – so including that name was obvious. Using ‘Sophia’ was more of a complicated decision. Many people honour Sophia as a goddess: either as the feminine aspect of the Christian god, or a goddess in a sort of Christian pantheon. That’s not exactly how she was seen by the Gnostics, though she was very important to them. Sophia, the journey to wisdom, to enlightenment, was a principle and a process more than a person. It’s also a name that I’ve long wanted to give to a daughter if I had one (even though I more than likely won’t have children). I loved using Sophia as a name. It… fits. Yes, it’s a bit ‘up myself’ to use a name that some people use for a goddess and which means ‘wisdom’ – but it just fit.

So you can still call me Sophia anytime you want. But in an effort to try and repair the gap that is growing between my Pagan life and my so-called ‘real life’, I’m starting to use my legal name more widely around the internet. I want to write, and do other interesting things – especially once I’ve finished my PhD – and I don’t want there to be any confusion between my identities.

ADF members often take on religious names, and I’m thinking of using Leithin Cluan as that name in the future. Leithin of Cluan is another mythological wisdom-seeking figure, though she approaches wisdom and knowledge from a very different, more earthly perspective than Sophia. Ultimately, Sophia is a carry-over from my Gnostic days, when I believed that enlightenment was found through a rejection of the world. But that’s no longer my primary path to wisdom (though it will always be an important aspect of my spiritual journey). I now seek wisdom in and through the world, through the sacredness of life in all its incredible diversity. Leithin the eagle sought wisdom from the stag, the blackbird and the salmon, from the oldest animals. She sought knowledge with her five senses, as Manannan advised Cormac to do. And eventually, Leithin also discovered that the devoted, obsessive pursuit of wisdom is not everything. Sometimes, it’s better to be at home looking after your chicks.

And all that name stuff is before we’ve even got to surnames. I disliked the surname I was born with even more than my first name, and I was delighted when SJ and I changed both our last names to a previous name of my family’s, that my granddad gave up just after the war (because it was a Jewish name, and he was meeting with some serious prejudice). Now that did feel like a name that encompassed my actual identity. And I hope that returning to it was honouring to my ancestors. But my first name? Ugh…

Names are a funny thing.  I may not like my legal first name, but it’s the truth of who I’ve been for 35 years, with all my baggage, joys, frustrations, and wonderful discoveries of what life is about. I’m Naomi Catherine Jacobs: sociologist-in-training, teacher, aspiring writer, tea-lover, devoted wife, crazy cat lady, occasional singer… and druid-in-training.

Pleased to meet you.

Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

 

It’s Epiphany, and I don’t have one.

I’ve always loved this poem – I even read it in church one Christmas, quite a few years ago – but it makes more sense now than it used to. Some days even the most joyful journeys are also about loss.

“…With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.”

 

To hear TS Eliot reading his poem, go here.