IMG_20140829_160059

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 – Day 19: Surprising Offerings – Sound, Song and Speech

31 Days of Offerings(1)

Singing!

Tonight I thought it was about time to pull a new Ogham fid, to set the tone for the next few days of offerings. I pulled Muin, the fid I associate with communication, words, music.

Photo: 'Muin' Ogham fid - card from the Celtic Tree Oracle pack

Photo: ‘Muin’ – card from the Celtic Tree Oracle pack

So then I suddenly find myself singing. I grab my bodhran, and out come both tune and words, in several verses:

Come, blessed Ladies, and gather around
As I sing a story without word or sound,
The world recreated as it resounds,

A song from the sea and the sky and the ground.

There’s even a penny whistle accompaniment! There’s more of it to come, about speaking the lost stories of the unheard, but I need to sit down and work with the snatches of lines I got while playing.

Singing!

Well, I did say that my shrines were there to tell my deities’ stories.

“Open your mouth and speak…” For silence is the gateway of oppression, but stories break down the walls.

Or, as Bonhoeffer put it (much better than me): Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906–1945

31 Days of Offerings – Day 17-18: Community Redefined

31 Days of Offerings(1)

Offerings don’t have to be a solely Pagan affair. We do too much separatism, for people who claim to believe that the world itself is sacred.

Last weekend I was heavily involved in helping to run this conference (see also here, where a group that participated has reviewed it), for which I’ve been on the planning committee most of this year (and I do a lot of their publicity, and was their social media person, and tweeted on the day, and, and…). I’m still recovering! I’ve not really talked about this much in Pagan circles, because, well, Christian.

But I grew up in a Christian context (actually I was about 30 when I left church), and I believe my Wyrd is tied to that community. It is part of my Work. I’m not doing a PhD on Christianity and disability for my health (and definitely not for my wallet). I believe I have a calling, and activism around disability and churches is part of that calling.

Photo: St Martin-in-the-Fields church, London

Photo: St Martin-in-the-Fields church, London

Other offerings I give to a broad interfaith local community include inter-faith educational work, work with the Druid Network, and various other things that I do with the aim of improving dialogue between religious communities and serving the local community generally.

Ultimately, as well as an offering to the people around me, this is also an ancestor offering. Most of my ancestors were Christians. Social justice and Christianity was important to many of them, I gather from stories told about a few of them.

My exploration of the story of Narnia and its less-acceptable characters is all part of this tangled web of a spiritual-religious journey that never ends. My relationship with a very liminal deity probably is too.

I am a proud non-active Anglican (while also a polytheist and modern druid), living on the edge of the community that is itself living on the edge of the churches: the community of disabled Christians. Religion isn’t always about belief. In fact, in most of the world, it isn’t really. We’ve taken American evangelicalism and tried to apply it to Paganism as well as to every other religion in the world – but religion for most people is about action, much more than belief. Do the stuff. Embody your practice. Be.

Liminality. It’s not just about Otherworlds. ;)

31 Days of Offerings – Day 16: Something For Nothing?

31 Days of Offerings(1)

I have been praying to St Cajetan on behalf of a friend.

IMG_0804

‘Our Lady Breaker of Chains’

Novenas (nine-day prayers) to saints are something I’ve been doing for many years. I’ve long since moved past the theology of it, past wondering whether my prayers will be heard, or asking why they would be. I do know that the offering is a bit of a struggle. Half way through the second ‘Our Father’ I’m usually getting a bit bored. By the third ‘Glory Be’ I’ve either started heading towards mystical union with the divine, or I’ve fallen asleep. It varies.

These days I see novenas as a ‘do ut des’ thing, a ‘deal’ made with spiritual ancestors, with them watching the content of my character as I ask them for something… “Are you honourable enough? Are you dedicated enough?”

I give that you may give. Asking something for nothing is not good for community, or for me. The offering I give in exchange for the saint’s favour may be words, perseverence, steadfastly remembering a friend, or candlelight… I’m not sure where the offering to the saint starts and the gift to the friend begins.

And all of that pales when I start to realise that the shaping of my own character is the greatest gift, and I’m giving it to myself.

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.

026D1D96862C41E5BEB85EEB200C3549

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

31 Days of Offerings(1)

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):

IMG_0752001(4)

001(3)IMG_0783IMG_0784

 

 

 

 

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

31 Days of Offerings(1)

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.

001(3)

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.

001(4)

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.

001(6)

SJ enjoying some very good hospitality.

001(5)

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.