I’ve started a new series of devotionals dedicated to the goddess, Brighid. These are available to my everyone in my Patreon community (which starts from as little as £1 a month). In these posts, you will find material that I have written, and material from others that I have come across in my research and work with the goddess (all material is credited, and links provided to find out more).
Brighid is a goddess that came to me as I was diving deeply into my Druid practice many years ago. She helped me greatly with her blessing on Druid College UK, and motivated me to keep it up (sadly, we’re only offering an online course at the moment, due to the pandemic). She has walked with me for many years, and feeling her with me is like the beautiful, golden autumnal light filling my soul.
If you are interested in joining me in my Patreon community, click HERE to find out more.
Blessings of Brighid be with you!
Note: my Patreon community also enjoys many other benefits, including material for everyone from my personal Book of Shadows, photography and more as well as special material for different levels of support.
Most people in Modern Paganism have heard of the Witch’s Pyramid, sometimes known as the Magician’s Manifesto. In this, there are four goals for a person to achieve their own power, which are: to know, to dare, to will, and to keep silent. I’m discussing each of these one by one in my podcast series, but I’d like to take a closer look at the adage: to keep silent.
Many say that this maxim was used in order to protect witches from “outing” each other during the witch trials and persecution of the Middle Ages. I’m not sure if this quote dates that far back, in all honesty. However, that’s beside the point of this article. There are some beneficial ways that the motto can be used, and also a lot of detrimental ways.
A good point: it teaches people to shut up and listen. You can’t really listen if you aren’t quiet. It also teaches us that words do have power. We need to use our words responsibly, especially in this age of social media and the abuse of people through the anonymity of the internet. A Witch’s word is said to hold power too – lies and half-truths undermine a Witch’s power (this applies to all people, in my opinion). Words can heal or destroy.
Being silent also helps us to see the bigger picture. When we step outside of our ego and its chattering, we begin to hear the stories of others and see the grander scheme of things. We all have egos, and we need to learn to work with them in order to not be ruled by them. When we are ruled by our egos, we aren’t living intentionally: we are instead living reactionary lives.
Being silent is also helpful in teaching us to be alone. With so many gadgets to hand to distract us from ourselves, we’ve forgotten how to be alone, how to be bored and, yes: how to be lonely. It’s only when you truly deal with loneliness that you can come to understand it and work to improve your situation. Then again, there are the more solitary folk who prefer to be alone, and who find solace in this space for themselves, to work, to heal, to dance and to pray. When we have cut ourselves off from all other distractions, we begin to realise that we are never truly alone. We have nature, the gods, the ancestors, all around us, all the time.
But what are some of the detriments to the saying, “to keep silent”? Well, silence has been used to abuse people for a long, long time. When we silence someone, we are exerting our power over them. Taking away a person or a group’s voice can be the most harmful thing you can do socially, politically, environmentally and ethically. Sometimes this even crosses over into the Pagan sphere, where unsavoury and unethical groups or persons use the adage “to keep silent” to use and abuse others. It can also be used to keep power from an individual or group, to not share knowledge in order to control them. It can be used as a front, a guise, a glamour for when someone doesn’t know an answer, and simply quotes this maxim to maintain an air of mystery and power. These kinds of “teachers” are really just in it for their egos. The best teacher will willingly admit to not knowing something, often learns from the student, and is willing to say so openly and honestly.
This sense of secrecy helps a group or person to establish power and mystique. It entices people to come closer, to learn more. The old Victorian orders and groups wove this veil of secrecy around their groups, not only to protect their members but also to make themselves feel more important. This has carried through in various forms throughout the decades, and has led to the history of Modern Witchcraft being a bit of a fuddled mess. If people were open about themselves, where their traditions came from, and who did what, we might have a more cohesive and coherent history to turn to. Even in the last 70 years we are still trying to unravel pieces of the puzzle, from Gardner and his associates and beyond. They can’t tell us – they’ve all passed on to the Summerland, taking their secrets with them. We can’t verify a lot of claims made by people and groups, which in this age of fact-checking has become paramount.
Many people, myself included, have found this utterly frustrating. So many traditions have created false histories in order to claim validity. In this way, they feel their tradition has the stamp of authenticity, because it goes back to so and so, etc. The irony of lies and half-truths to authentic a tradition is, I’m sure, not lost on many. I personally am not one to equate a religious or spiritual path’s age with validity, and there are many others out there who feel the same. If a spiritual path works for someone, and it was created yesterday, it’s just as valid as a 2,000 year-old tradition that spans the globe. But when secrecy is used to obscure fact because of false claims or untruths in a specific tradition, it can devalue it in the eyes of some. It’s never fun when you find out that your tradition had charlatans and forgers, ego maniacs and more thrown into the historical mix.
History will always have a veil of obscurity over it, hidden truths and perspectives written down by “the winners”. But with the adage of “to keep silent”, this can simply perpetuate the wilful abuse of the truth and facts.
Perhaps we need to learn when to speak up, when to speak the truth, our truths, and when to keep silent. When it is appropriate to do so, in order for power to be shared by all. The person with the most power is the person who is most willing to share it. And they usually don’t shout about it either.
Deity in any Pagan tradition is a very personal thing. The best way to get to know more about a deity, apart from extensive research, is through prayer. Some people have difficulty with the word prayer, seeing connotations to other religions with which they prefer to disassociate themselves. However, prayer is not relegate to certain religions, and is found the world over. It is not solely a Christian practice or only pertaining to any of the other Abrahamic faiths. How else would we communicate with deity, whether it is a pre-Christian Irish goddess or Greek god of the sun, or a God and Goddess of our local area with no recorded historical name? If you are communicating with a deity, that is prayer.
Prayer can be simple or complex. You can recite long, flowery verses in loving devotion within a ritual to the gods of your choice, or you may choose to honour them with a few simple, heartfelt words throughout the day. How you choose to pray is entirely your decision.
Prayer is simply opening up a line of communication with deity. When we begin to establish a connection with deity, we find a growing relationship that flows both ways. We can talk to the deities, and they can respond in turn. There are many ways to pray, such as:
• Prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude
• Prayers of devotion and love
• Prayers of petition, such as asking for healing or guidance
• Daily prayers to keep up a connection to deity throughout the day
• Seasonal prayers recited in honour of the Sabbats and the Wheel of the Year
Your prayers might be spontaneous, with words inspired by the beauty of nature spoken aloud or quietly in your mind to the gods and goddesses. You might find beautiful, written prayers in books and literature that you wish to recite and/or memorise for ritual or daily practice. Old prayers are not necessarily better than new prayers. As well, writing your own prayers might have more relevance to your own practice than reciting the words of others. If you are feeling poetic, try writing your own prayer to deity, after doing thorough research on their attributes, their likes and dislikes, their form and personality. You can then write your prayer around those ideas. Here is an example of a prayer that I wrote to the Welsh goddess, Arianrhod:
Lady of the Silver Wheel
Whose realm of the starry heavens
Glitters in silver and in gold
Whose gifts of prophecy and sovereignty
Are shared amongst your devoted
Lady of magic
You challenge me as you yourself have been challenged
And I rise
I rise to the challenge
To be my most authentic self
With your guidance and wisdom
Now and forever more
This prayer takes into consideration her connection to the moon, her abilities and also her stories told through the Welsh myths. It is written plainly, without rhyming or meter. If you prefer to use rhyming and meter, this is also a good choice, for prayers are easier to memorise in that fashion. For example:
Brewer of the Awen
Lend strength and protection
When engaging in prayer, it is important to consider that there really is someone on the other end, and that being does not wish to continually be asked for things without getting anything in return. If we are constantly petitioning the gods, then imagine what it would feel like if someone was constantly petitioning you for help. The gods help those who help themselves. There is no problem with prayers of petition, so long as they are balanced with other forms of prayer, perhaps daily prayer or prayers of gratitude.
Know that when we are petitioning the gods, we are not handing over our fates to them, or asking them to solve all our problems. It is still up to us to instigate the change that is needed in our lives. We can petition the gods for help and guidance, but we must also do the hard work that is necessary as well. We practice an independent tradition, based upon personal responsibility. After all, that’s why we are Pagans! And as Pagans, we pray to the deities, as often as possible, both in ritual and outside of ritual, to keep that connection and relationship strong.
In this blog series, we will go through the runes as they are recorded in the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Rune Poem.
The third rune, Thorn is a tricky one, as its meaning has shifted with the Anglo-Saxon language. In Old Norse, it is connected to thurs, a malevolent entity of raw power. Some accord this entity to the giants found in Old Norse literature. But in Anglo-Saxon, it is thought that the shape of the rune dictated the meaning, and so we have “thorn”. It is believed that the change occurred during the Christian period, and so the younger Norwegian Rune Poem may hold an older vestige of this rune’s meaning.
Alaric Albertsson states that the rune means “hawthorn”. This may be due to the laying of hawthorn hedges in the Anglo-Saxon agricultural world, and taking rest in their shade, albeit carefully. It may connect to the English thyrses in this way (Old Norse thurses) in that the hawthorn, being a tree of liminality especially in Celtic lore (a faery tree) allows beings to travel between the worlds and thus, assail humanity should they so wish. As far as I can tell from my research, this is, however, all conjecture.
Swain Wodening makes the connection between Thorn and the Old Norse god Thor (Thunor in Anglo-Saxon). He states that Thor had connections to many thorny plants such as nettle and thistle, plants which use thorns or spikes to defend themselves, much as Thor was the defender of humanity against the giants. All in all, these are all theories, and you will have to make your own mind up regarding the various possible meanings that surround this rune.
In the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Rune Poem, the verse reads:
Thorn is painfully sharp to any warrior
seizing it is bad, excessively severe
for any person who lays among them.
Thorn relating to a warrior is interesting, in that when I first read this verse, the concept of the Celtic Fianna warriors running through the woods with braided hair as a test came to mind. Should any of their braids catch on branches or thorns as they raced through the forest, they failed their test. Though this is a purely Celtic concept, there are similarities between Celtic and Northern European cultures in aspects of spirituality, artwork, commerce and more. Though this may have nothing to do with the Fianna warriors, it may have something to do with being out in the wildness of nature as a warrior, otherwise why mention it in relation to the flora? This could just be a mix of metaphors from the Old Norse into Anglo-Saxon, where a warrior fought off thyrses or giants, rather than was overly wary of the surrounding plant life. Or maybe it was a caution against the abundance of nettles that can be found all across the UK!
I found out the hard way when I first moved to these lands of the power of nettle, after walking through a field thick with them, not knowing what they were, and coming away with stinging hands and legs. We didn’t have stinging nettles where I grew up in Canada. So, maybe this is a simple warning not to make your camp or sleep near nettles when you are doing your warrior thing!
Another thing that came to mind when I first read the Old English verse is the Christian clergy in the line “excessively severe for any person who lays among them”. Saint Benedict was said to have come across a blackbird (a bird of liminality and the Druids in Celtic lore) which stayed with him for a moment, close to hand, before flying off. After this, Benedict became overcome with carnal thoughts of a woman he had seen once, and in order to shake off these emotions, he threw himself into a patch of nettles and briars. This remedy was so successful, Saint Benedict claims he was never overcome with that sort of temptation again. Severe? Yes, indeed. Excessively severe? I would say so. So perhaps this rune has a relation to Saint Benedict, but perhaps from a more “moderate” Anglo-Saxon Christian viewpoint.
From my point of view, I view thorn as a cautionary tale, based on my own experience with plants here in the UK which was hard learned. There are many spiky and stingy plants around here, such as hawthorn and nettle, but also blackthorn. Blackthorn has the longest, most vicious spikes of them all, and has a tendency to break off into the skin and then go septic. Unwary foragers, farmers and even horses can fall foul of the blackthorn. An extra element of Christianity comes into play with this as well, for it is said that the crown of thorns that Jesus wore came from the blackthorn.
Whether you’re a warrior or a farmer, a forager or a gardener, being around thorns reminds you of the power of nature. A small plant may cause you great discomfort, a lapse of mindfulness can cause you great injury. Thorn reminds us of this, in that we need to take care, that we need to be aware of our surroundings (and this may again relate to the Old Norse thurs). Thorns can be seen as aggressive when we are on the receiving end, but we must remember that thorns protect a plant. Therefore, Thorn can be used in regards to workings of protection, although some may use it in the form of a curse. It is a good warding rune, to keep people away from you and your possessions. But it must be worked with carefully, lest you feel its sharp sting!
You can easily form the rune with your hands, with your left hand being straight and your right hand forming the sideways “v” shape. You can also stand in trance posture with your right arm at your hip, making the shape of the rune (and also giving off a “go on if you think you’re hard enough vibe).
Thorn is an interesting rune, in that its history is murky and muddied from different cultures. Yet it shows a great merging of understanding that I think is at the heart of Anglo-Saxon culture and tradition. Learn what you can from those around you, from the land itself, and let that inform your life. Take it all in. Use what works. The Anglo-Saxons were practical folk.
And watch out for thorns.
 Pollington, S. Rudiments of Runelore, Anglo-Saxon Books, (2011), p.18
 Albertsson, A. Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer, Llewellyn, (2011), p.98
 Wodening, S. Hammer of the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism in Modern Times, Angleseaxisce Ealdriht, (2003) p. 185
As we stand at the turning point of the seasons, we welcome this balance point, knowing that tomorrow we will welcome the growing darkness even as we welcomed the light in the spring. For without night there is no day, without spring no summer, without death there is no life. We are all a part of this cycle of manifestation, growth, decay and rejuvenation.