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

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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?

31 Days of Offerings – Days 12-14: Reflections On Daily Religion and Being Too Many Priests

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While giving offerings over the past week, I’ve been having more thoughts on the touchstone of daily religion, brief practical offerings, and the giving back of everything I do. A lot of Pagans are trying to live in a mostly-Christianity-inspired devotional world of personal deity relationships and mysticism. But actually, most ancient pagans were nothing like we are, and would have been far more focused on the day-to-day than the mystical.

We are all trying to be priests. Where is the role for faithful laity, and why do we discourage practical, daily religion? And what about the difference between the way we relate to different gods, as well as to the spirits and the ancestors?

Which is not unrelated to the place my thinking went next:

Why is ‘having too many shrines’, and by extension ‘having too many gods’, sometimes a taboo in the Pagan and/or polytheist world?

These are most of my shrines (at the moment):

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Above – top left: shrine to Cailleach Bhearra and Duibhne – centre: seasonal shrine currently dedicated to Latiaran and the harvest cycle goddess of Munster – top right: hearth shrine including an area for Brigantia – bottom left: three out of four levels of my shrine cabinet, with the hearth shrine at the bottom, the ancestor shrine in the middle, and a shelf for Manannan mac Lir, Macha and the Morrigan above that – bottom right: the shelf above that, dedicated to the avatars of Sophia (who are a mix of gods and spiritual ancestors), including Arianrhod, Jadis, Mary Star of the Sea, and St Catherine. And that’s not including my little corners dedicated to the house spirits and land spirits, or the basic candle and offering bowl in the kitchen…

When I hear people complaining that another Pagan has too many gods, or worse, hear someone saying it disparagingly about themselves, I have to wonder where we get that idea from. It seems to go back to that idea that we all have to be mystics, saints, oracles, prophets and priests – with ALL the gods we engage with.

One goddess, I believe, chose me to go a bit deeper with her. But I have far more simple purposes with every other god I honour – and there are a lot. I honour them to keep their stories alive, as with Latiaran on her tiny shrine with her bee candle. I honour them to keep my home re-enchanted, buzzing with the reality of the Otherworld. I honour them to keep me connected. I honour them because they are there, and they are the gods.

My gods are everywhere — immanent in every tree and hill I pass, in every interaction I have with my fellow human beings, in the tarmac on the roads and the bricks and mortar of my home. So I tell their stories in their many shrines, from the candle on the kitchen windowsill and the little box in corner of the bookshelf, to the ornate table at the entrance to my study.

May my home always be filled with the stories of the Shining Ones.

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.

31 Days of Offerings – Day 4 & 5: Offering Too Much

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It is possible to offer too much. Sometimes I give more of myself than I can sustain for very long. Eventually, my life spirals out of control and I stop doing anything useful, either for others, or for me.

On Sunday I made no offerings. I was a bit too busy being in that state of intense anxiety that means actual human functioning is a bit out of the question. At the end of a week where I’d been headed in that direction for days.

On Monday I decided to begin again at the beginning.

Photo: newly-organised shrine

Photo: newly-organised shrine

New shrine cloth. A bit of reorganisation of some items. Putting up some pictures I got in the Beara Peninsula this summer, but hadn’t done anything with yet. (I still need to get them framed, but it’s a start.) Moving some things out of focus, other things into the centre.

Settling in for the long dark.

And in the centre of the storm, an eye of perfect calm. Such an incredible contrast of peace… from a many-layered chaotic goddess.

It’s my experience that Cailleach Bhearra doesn’t much care about her shrine – she has the mountains as her playground and a sea-god for a husband, after all. The shrine is, really, for me – a place where I want to stop and meet her. It needs to be a little wild, but not so out of control that my human spirit is too afraid to stop there a while and meet with her wild soul.

A bit like with my life, really.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.