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

31 Days of Offerings(1)

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

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
Day 4 & 5: Offering Too Much
Days 6-11: Simple Steps Forward
Days 12-14: Reflections on Daily Religion and Being Too Many Priests
Day 15: Wise Justice and the Authentic Self

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!]

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!

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

I know what I like… (30 Days of Deity Devotion 8, 9 & 10)

There was a woman here long ago that they used to call An Chailleach Bhéarthach and she never shed a tear and she never drank or ate anything, hot or cold, only cow’s milk, always.
– Folk-tale from Galway, cited in O Crualaoich

And what she had to eat was:
Real, pure
madhbhan* from Whiddy
Duileasg* from the harbours of Cape Clear.
Fish from above in the Laune

And wild garlic from Beleach Bheimis.
– Folk-tale from the Beara Gaeltacht, cited in O Crualaoich

*Types of seaweed.

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8) Variations on this deity (aspects, regional forms, etc.)
9) Common mistakes about this deity
10) Offerings – historical and UPG

8 & 9:

There are many Cailleachean in Ireland and Scotland. I think that they’re not the same – except when they are. Many of them have enough in common that they may have roots in common,1 which is why it’s easy for people to (mistakenly) talk about ‘the Cailleach’, as though there were only one. Usually, when they reference ‘the’ Cailleach, people are talking about the Scottish lady, and her seasonal associations. But there are others. All tied to the land, in my experience, but not all winter deities.

I’ve already talked about Duibhne, who is also known as the Cailleach Corca Dhuibhne (or, in English, the Cailleach of Dingle). She appears to me most often as a young woman, and it may be that she was only syncretised with the concept of the ‘Cailleach’ later2 – she may have been an independent land goddess first. There are Cailleachean in Sligo (I really want to read this book), and at the megalithic tomb in County Meath, and up north, in County Clare. And of course, there are the Scottish Cailleachean, of whom I know very little.

But just because there are Cailleachean all over Ireland, doesn’t mean they’re all the same. While I don’t know the others well (except for Duibhne), I know that Bhéarra is the embodiment of her land and its culture. Songs and tales from the peninsula are not about the whole of Ireland – they’re about specific places, like Bantry, the little harbour on the edge of the Beara peninsula that has seen famine, oppression and loss, as well as joy of its own. ‘My’ Cailleach is all of these things and more — everything the land and its people have experienced.

Bantry Bay - photo by Visit Cork, flickr

Bantry Bay – photo by Visit Cork, flickr

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Bantry village. Photo by Jim Vaughey, flickr

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Grey seals in the harbour at Bantry Bay. Photo by Jos van der Heiden, flickr

10) Offerings:

As a fertility-of-the-land and harvest goddess, I offer her ‘fruits of the land and sea’ a lot (mentioned in her myths) – fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish, grain. That always seems to go down well. Grain-based products are particularly good – oat-bread and porridge are mentioned in one tale. So are sea foods, in another, from seaweed to lobster.

Given that Baoi’s name may mean ‘white cow’, and that she has a bull, I really like the story that says she never ate anything except dairy products. I’ve only just started offering Bhéarra dairy products, and so far, my personal thinking is that she seems like them, but not as much as some things. I’d like to try offering her beef, too.

She seems to like whiskey. Like, really like it. I have no textual provenance for this idea – it just felt like a thing to offer her, so I do. I try to find whiskeys local to Cork, which is a bit tricky – I can usually only find those when I’m there. (The owner of the off-licence in Bantry has looked at me weirdly several times when I’ve asked for the most local whiskey he has, which is usually the cheapest!)

In the next few posts, we’ll start moving into serious UPG territory. Advanced warning!

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[1] O Crualaigh argues that Bhéarra is the root, the figure from which all the others came. I’ve read other interpretations that say that the Scottish lady came first, though. I think we’ll probably never know, but it’s interesting to speculate.

[2] O Hogain, Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopaedia of Irish Folk Tradition.

30 Days of Deity Devotion: 1 & 2

See here for the introductory post to this little series.

1) A basic introduction to the deity

An Chailleach Bhéarra. The Hag of Beara. Sentainne Berri. Baoi/Bui. Here is the post I wrote about the earliest experiences I had with her.

My Cailleach Bhearra tag is here –  all the posts I’ve written that reference her. Continue reading