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.

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…

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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!]

Q is for… Quiet Quotidian Work

I’m probably going to go fairly quiet over the next 2-3 weeks.

Moving is hard work for me. I’m disabled, so can’t do much in the way of packing or lifting boxes. I’m also having to do the packing without SJ, who is in London at their new job. I have a friend helping sometimes, but I’m still having to do things that I really shouldn’t. There’s also the general stress I mentioned in my last post. And on the day before we move, I’m giving a paper at a big conference. So that was interestingly timed. I’m trying to write the paper at the moment. I keep looking for books to help, and finding that they’re in boxes. Erk.

On the plus side, we have a place to go to now! And it’s nice, and takes cats! But still with the chaos.

As you can imagine, my spiritual life and work have gone very quiet while all of this gets sorted out. A lot of my supplies and altar stuff are going into boxes. I’m left with the basics, so that I can do the daily stuff – make offerings, light candles, say prayers. Quotidian stuff. The non-flashy, not-so-exciting stuff that I’m always overlooking in my haste to do a high day celebration, or some magic, or a trance adventure, or nature work, or my next Ogham fid meditation, or… or… or…

And this is a really good thing. In the end, we all need to focus on the basic, daily work sometimes. Forget the complicated stuff. All the herbs, wood, oils, well water, river water, stones, cords, charms, prayer beads and Ogham sets are going into boxes very soon. I’ll be left with a few candles, my ADF Well/Fire/Tree representations, my paints, and the odd book. I’ll go back to basics, and let myself be very quiet. If only to balance out the chaos. I will make offerings, light candles, and say prayers. Rinse, repeat and meditate again. Quietly. Daily.