Here’s a video describing a Winternights blot, a heathen ritual to welcome in winter. I honour my Anglo Saxon and Scandinavian ancestry at this time of year, as well as the growing darkness and the cold north winds.
New video now up on my YouTube channel!
This time of year always makes me think of my family: my relatives, my extended family, and my ancestors. It’s a difficult time of year to be separate from them, as during this season it is all about being with family. As I won’t be going back to Canada for the holidays this year (I was back in the summer, and will be going back next summer for a big wedding anniversary) this winter will be a hard one, mentally and emotionally. Thank goodness for the blessings of Skype!
So how do I cope? Well, first and foremost, if I can’t be with my blood family, I’ll be with my chosen family: my friends. We’re organising a Yule ritual and feast, and it will be good to be with others, laughing and sharing food and drink, a warm fire and toasting the past year, and looking forward to the coming year.
As always at this time of year, my spiritual path shifts to honour my ancestors. My practice takes on more of a Heathen focus, working with the old ways of Germanic customs, deities, ethics and lore. If I can’t be out walking the snow-covered hills and deep, silent forests of my native Canada, then I will work with the ancestors and spirits of place here in England that still remember and resonate with a similar landscape from their past, and also a similar ideal. It runs through my veins, the yearning to be with family, to deepen those bonds with gifts and storytelling, to be out in the winter air and honouring the world around me.
I feel a close connection to Frigge, the Allmother, especially during the winter months. She is the lady of right order, a lady of sovereignty, she who sees the wyrd of all. She is a great weaver, and she knows the bonds of friendship and family are the strongest ones we can have in our lives. I say a daily prayer to her every morning, and light a candle in her name.
There is also a special place in my heart for Ullr, who is mostly associated with hunting but, as with all the northern traditions’ deities, they cannot be pigeon-holed into a specific “god of such and such” for their functions, their talents, their skills and their passions often overlap, just as ours do here in Midgarth. I also honour the Etin-bride Skadhi, she of the snowshoes, an independent and strong warrior woman who is not afraid to ask for what she wants in life. If I can’t be out on my cross-country skis back in Canada, then I can still feel the presence of the gods in the awesome winter skies of East Anglia, with frost on the ground and the deer in their large winter herds before me on the heath.
I honour Freya (who may or may not be separate from Frigga – the debate still rages) as a lady of seidr, the magic and trancework of the northern peoples. With my staff I sit, indoors or out, and connect to my guides, singing the songs that take me between the worlds.
I also have a great love and respect for Tyr, who befriended Fenris the Wolf who will slay many at the end of days, at Ragnarok. When Fenris came to live with the gods, Tyr was kind enough to take care of him, to feed him and keep him company. When the gods decided that Fenris should be bound, in an attempt to stop the aforementioned fate from coming to pass, the wolf knew something was up, and demanded that someone’s hand be put in his mouth while the magical fetter was being laid upon him. No god or goddess was willing to do so, apart from Tyr, who knew his duty, both to the wolf and the gods and goddesses of Asgard. And so he lost his hand when Fenris bit down after realising he had been tricked. Tyr knows the price to be paid, as well as duty and the kindness that is compassion.
I work with the runes, and am studying them in more depth this year. I’m also going to be part of a study group with a kindred that lives a few rivers down the coast, who have kindly invited me to several blots over this past year (rituals where blessings are offered and given). There is the special sumble (ritual where words are spoken over the ritual cup/horn, to fall into the well of wyrd) near the winter solstice, and of course, the entire festival of Yule which I will celebrate, spanning the 12 days of Christmas in the modern calendar.
All in all, this winter will be a quiet one, where I turn to my ancestors and work with my heritage, learning new things and becoming a student once again. I’m very much looking forward to it, and to the new discoveries along the way. May the blessings of winter’s might and reflection be with you all!
It’s good to be home. After a couple of weeks visiting my family back in Canada, with yet another heat wave (40C with the humidity!) I can honestly say that I’m grateful to be back in Suffolk. It feels like autumn has arrived here, as it has back in Canada (the day after I left, it turned to a lovely 21C and the leaves beginning their autumnal splendour) and the change in the air is most welcome.
As always, going back to visit my family brings up contemplations of just what “home” really is. I realised that in 3.5 years, I will have lived in the UK for as long as I have lived in Canada. Over twenty years of eating food grown in this land, drinking water from local bore holes and reservoirs, breathing in the air and connecting with the different flora and fauna relative to this place and this time. It really has shaped me, alongside the people I’ve met and the experiences I have had, and I am both grateful and a touch melancholic when reminiscing about all that I have done and gone through in moving to this new land all those years ago.
This is where I made my lifelong dream come true, to be an author. Never did I ever dream about establishing a Druid College, or a belly dance company, or a host of many other turns my life has taken. It’s been a challenge and a blessing, the twists and turns my life has taken, and for which I am both proud and humbled to have come out the other side. England is not the land of Madam George and roses, as Sinead O’Connor once sang, but it is the place that captured my heart, alongside Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
So I return to my home with a renewed sense of place, of home and indeed, of belonging. Even though I will always carry a thread of being an outsider, with my accent alerting people to the fact that I was not born here, still I feel like this place is home. An immigrant to this country, coming from a long line of immigrants to various countries, I feel a shared connection both to my ancestors as well as to the ancestors of place, which here in the UK are so varied from before history even began. I have a few months now to breathe deeply, to take the time to reconnect, now that my new book for Llewellyn has been sent off and revised. For the rest of the year, I will be taking information in, taking in the sensual and the ecstatic, allowing the awen to flow into me after many long months of being on the other end. Allowing myself to reap the harvest sown earlier on. And so the cycle continues, in and out, flowing and ebbing, as I gather my resources ready for a new round of work come the new year. For the next three months, I will be listening to the words and voices of others, allowing their inspiration to fill me, and see where that takes me.
And in the meantime, I shall walk this land, the sandy soil of heath and woodland beneath my feet, the wind blowing in from the sea and scenting the air, the hearthfires burning both in the little village around me and within my soul.
P.S. Here’s a sneak peek at the cover of my new book, coming out next summer!
Blessings of Lammas/Lughnasadh/Gwyl Awst to you. May your harvest be abundant and rewarding, and may we learn from our experience to carry knowledge forward into wisdom.
I have just come back from a four day road-trip with two of my best friends into the heart of the Wiltshire landscape, poking our noses in Somerset to visit Glastonbury and participate in a workshop run by author and activist Starhawk on Sunday as part of the Goddess Conference’s fringe events. To say I am shattered is an understatement; my body has shut down completely, and I am now suffering from a cold as well as my monthly moon-time a week early. When will I ever learn??? Easy does it!
At any rate, it was a magical time, with perhaps the most transformative event being a quiet meditation upon West Kennet Long Barrow. The harvest was in full swing in the landscape all around. Where we came from in Suffolk, the harvest began in early July, as we hadn’t had rain for two months. They were a bit more fortunate down in the south-west, and the harvest timing was more in tune with the Wheel of the Year than over in the East, where everything seems rather disjointed this year.
Sitting on top of the barrow, I could feel the energy of the land around me, as well as the energy of the ancestors and the barrow itself beneath me. The land’s energy was golden like the sun, flowing and bright. It was a stark contrast to the energy of the barrow, which was dark, cool and quiet. In the landscape, looking out over at Silbury Hill, I could feel the richness of this time of year, and see the ancient priests of the land atop the platform of that great hill, directing the ritual observances for honouring the harvest and the land, beginning at The Sanctuary and flowing all throughout that wonderful temple radiating outwards from Avebury’s henge and circle. Everything was in motion, everything was in full swing.
But beneath me was the silence of death, of deep stillness and quiet. Despite the bus load of tourists that had come and gone while I was meditating, I could still feel that deep sense of rest beneath me. I made my way down and into the barrow itself, stopping at the entrance to honour the ancestors. Deep within the barrow, in the furthest accessible chamber, I stood, honouring the silence of death.
But then the sounds of life came from the entrance, as baby birds chirped in their nest upon the arrival of their parents. Two families of swallows were nesting just above the entrance-way to the tomb, and the cycle of life and death seemed complete, and ever entwined, like beautiful Celtic knotwork or the spirals of the triskele seen upon so many of the neolithic and megalithic structures that abound in these British Isles.
We had just come from Swallowhead Spring, where it was a trickle in the dry landscape. Watercress choked the river Kennet, and the spring itself was dry.
We later moved to The Sanctuary, to experience this wonderful temple. It was like travelling back in time. We also visited the so-called “Moon Temple” that has been discussed in recent editions of Pagan Dawn magazine by geomancer Terence Mead. Sadly, we were unable to actually get close to the temple, as the farmer has moved all his cows, calves and a great big bull into that square kilometre where much of the temple lies. Shame, as we had walked miles and miles to get to it!
At Avebury we planned to hold a small ritual, just the three of us, during the lunar eclipse. We found a quiet corner, well, quiet for a minute or two before an old man tottered towards us as we had begun! It was all very odd, as he came near and then rolled out a blanket to sit upon, and made as if he was going to have a little nap. He stayed for a few minutes, then packed up again and made his way back the way that he had come. All very odd! We wondered if he was really real, and perhaps was, in fact, a spirit of place come to visit…
The eclipse was hidden behind fast moving clouds, and it seemed like the Wild Hunt was out riding early. The main part of the circle and henge had an air of a festival about it, so we kept to the quiet fringes and away from any crowds. As the wind picked up and our tired limbs grew heavy and cold, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.
All in all, it was an interesting trip, deep in the heart of such a sacred landscape. But is has also made me very aware of my own landscape, and how sacred it is to me personally. I won’t be heading back that way for some time now, for I found myself missing my land, my locality, more and more as each day passed. The long six-hour drive home was taxing, and I am so grateful now just to be home, still buzzing from the experience at West Kennet, but rooting my feet firmly into the sandy heathland soil of home.
Tonight I honour my European ancestry, and the female lineage from which I am descended. I honour the disir, all the women, past and present, and am thankful for their presence in my life.
Here’s a taster from my latest blog at SageWoman – to read the full article click HERE.
At this time of year, the pull of the ancestors is very strong, from the blood ancestors, the ancestors of the land and also ancestors of tradition. The beckoning call of our future ancestors also pulls me in another direction, and I feel the threads that weave it all together being pulled tightly, even as the leaves turn and fall from the trees, the smell of woodsmoke on the wind. Sometimes the songs of the ancestors are so strong, that when walking through the land it can feel like walking through treacle. When sitting in meditation, the songs flow through my body, leaving my sense of self behind as I am swept up in the current of my bloodline, the songs of those who lived on this land before, and the wisdom whispered through the teachers. It can be difficult, dealing with the parish council and social workers, or even holding a conversation with someone who works at the village shop. Still, with the heady songs flowing through my veins and through the land I manage to get the day to day jobs done: the post mailed, the articles written, the class notes finished, the toilet scrubbed.
It’s now mid-afternoon, and as I stand by the empty grave I see people starting to arrive. They wait by the edge of the graves, and then the hearse arrives, the long black car pulling along the dirt drive through the trees of the natural burial ground. I feel the waves of emotion through the people as they see that vehicle of death arriving, and I feel a wave of memory flooding through me as well, of past deaths and loved ones arriving in the same fashion. I take a deep breath of the autumn air and send love and compassion to my heart, and then extend that outwards to those who are waiting for the coffin to emerge, as I hold them, creating a sacred space for them to grieve, to feel this moment, to come to terms with their own mortality and the mortality of those that they love…
Cont’d at Witches and Pagans HERE.
Most of us hope that when we die, we are able to pass on with a little grace and dignity. However, what is important to me right now is living in the present moment, awake and aware to the flow of life, of awen, hearing the songs of the ancestors and truly finding the meaning of the word, grace, within my own life.
Grace is a brilliant word that has so many meaning: to favour, to honour, elegance or beauty in form, ease, fluidity, mercy, clemency and pardon, just to name a few. If we look to the Latin languages’ use of the word, we find echoes in the Italian grazie or Spanish gracias, or in the French merci. The Latin root is grātia, meaning: (1) a pleasing quality, (2) favour or goodwill, and (3) gratitude or thanks. All three of these I find are essential to living honourably in today’s world.
To have a pleasing quality can have a myriad of meanings, from being aesthetically pleasing to simply being kind. The key word in this description is please in a verb form, which is something that makes one happy, whether it is the self or another. Why would we not want to make another happy? As long as it isn’t at our own expense, or hurtful towards ourselves, it seems a wonderful way to live. When we are hurtful towards another person, it doesn’t make us feel very good – or if it does, there might be something rather wrong with the brain’s chemistry. This doesn’t mean that our lives are not our own, and that we have to make others happy first – finding happiness within the self should come first, as should love for the self, in order to spread it around a little bit. Finding a peace and contentment within helps us to bring that to others. When we are not at peace with our sense of self, we cannot bring peace to others.
To have goodwill for others is at the heart of living with compassion, and also living with grace. The moment we wish another being harm, we have stepped outside of grace and into a hellish world of anger, retribution, revenge, bitterness and so on. We will not always immediately have good will for another being, especially if we have been hurt by someone in the past. Sitting with our own hurt, and then recognising the other’s pain helps us to open up our perspective from just ourselves to the wider situation. People who hurt others are often very hurt themselves. Those who try to pick-apart, to undermine, to speak unkindly to/about, who cause emotional pain – we can work with this with grace. We can see their hurt, empathise with it (though we don’t have to engage it, especially if it means further hurt or abuse from them towards ourselves), and feel compassion for them. We can wish them well, wish them love and peace, which feeds our own inner peace and peace throughout the world. The compassionate being is one who lives gracefully. (Please note: If you are being physically or psychologically abused, please do talk to someone about it right away and seek help.)
For me, perhaps the most important part of grace and its root word is to give thanks. To have gratitude is one of the key components of my Druid path, along with reverence, honour and compassion. When we have gratitude, again we step outside of our “small self” and enter into a way of being in which everything is part of everything else. No longer separate from the world, we are able to experience a deep gratitude for the world, our experiences, our loves and our lives. Our ancestors have brought us to where we are today, and it is through their strengths and weaknesses that we walk upon the earth. Our future ancestors are the ones to which we will be accountable for our actions in the present moment. Having a deep gratitude for our ancestors, not only human but also other-than-human ancestors helps us to see the inter-connectedness of all existence. Again, it shifts the perspective away from the self and into a broader, more integrated view.
This is the essence of grace – widening our world and our views, and in doing so living with kindness and compassion. It is something that is achievable for all, and something that will lead us to lives with more peace and harmony. Listening to the notes of the Great Song, the Oran Mòr, we are able to move with grace, to live with grace and to extol grace upon others.
Here is a taster from my latest blog post at SageWoman – I’ve also got an article coming up in the next print edition of SageWoman magazine, so keep an eye out!
I learned something fascinating this weekend. I learned that as women, when we are in our mother’s womb, we already have all the ovum (eggs) that we will release during our fertile years. So, to put that into context, when my mother was in my grandmother’s womb, I was also there, partly, as one of the eggs that would be fertilised by my father. This link only occurs in women, and it just blew my mind. I was in my grandmother’s womb.
Our lines of ancestry can be glorious and transformational journeys of discovery. Not only in a historical sense, exploring records and genealogy, but also connecting spiritually with our ancestors. As the darkness creeps in and the days get shorter, in the cooling air with the harvest being taken in the fields all around me, my thoughts turn to my ancestors and to the self, releasing into the approaching autumn and finding great comfort and joy in the letting go.
In order to release that sense of self, however, we must first come to know our self.
Exploring who we are, where we came from, what makes us “us” is key to this work. Understanding circumstances, experiences, lines of ancestry can enrich our lives and help us to uncover depths of our own soul that may have previously escaped our notice.
To read more/full article, click HERE.
Sacrifice – it’s one of those “old” words, like honour and duty. Many who have read Roman accounts of the Druids associate the word, sacrifice, with the priest caste of the Celtic people at that particular time. However, the word goes even further back into the beginnings of time for the human animal, when the importance of relationship with nature was everything, when we knew that to disconnect ourselves from the natural world meant death. Today, we must remember this, remember each and every day how much we are a part of the world, how much our everyday actions count, no matter how small. Each day is also an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings that we have. At Lammas, however, just giving thanks doesn’t seem quite enough. When the first crop is harvested, and the land lies stark and naked, shaved and shorn from under the combine harvester, giving thanks and saying words over the field doesn’t feel adequate. This, for me, is where sacrifice comes into play.
It’s hard as the line keeps shifting between giving thanks and the notion of sacrifice. What might be an offering to one person might be seen as a sacrifice to another. I can only speak from my own personal viewpoint, as I may value things differently from my neighbours, my family, and members of my pagan community. So, what is the difference between an offering and a sacrifice?
For me, sacrifice is something of significant value. This is not necessarily a monetary value, but could be something that is cherished, prized, something that is utterly loved and which has a representative value of the threads of connection we hold with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. What is it that I have which I value? What am I willing to give back in return for the flow of awen, that spark where soul touches soul and is inspired? What am I willing to do to achieve that?
When the barley in the field by my house is cut, the energy of the land drastically changes. Between the homes and the heathland there are two arable fields, one which was harvested in the spring for green barley, and one which still has the golden, bowed stalks waiting to be harvested. Acknowledging the change isn’t enough, for when we hear the songs of the ancestors, I feel how important these crops were for them, how important their relationship with the land meant their survival and success. In a field of growing barley, there is potential, a shimmering energy waiting to be harvested. When that field is cut, the potential can be scattered if the land is not honoured. The ancestors knew this, but we have forgotten. Modern farming depletes the soil of essential nutrients that must be replaced, often by less-than-natural means. The barley is cut, and the field then stands, barren and forgotten for weeks, until the farmer and his tractor are ready to plough in the winter or spring crops.
The land isn’t respected, isn’t acknowledged anymore. As an animist, I find this appalling. When the land has been used, has given us so much in a beautiful field of barley, and we don’t even give thanks, much less sacrifice then there is dishonour. As with any relationship, if one side continually gives and gives, and the other continually takes and takes, the balance will shift, the relationship will crumble and great suffering will ensue.
What can I give that will honour the lives that this crop will feed, that will honour the land that grew it, that will honour the ancestors that worked it, that will honour the spirits of place who live there? What will be a significant gift for all we have received?
The sacrifice will change year upon year. What matters most is the importance of the sacrifice to me personally.
Offerings represent a more daily interaction, little gifts and niceties that you would present to any friend that you meet: a cup of tea, a biscuit, some of the fresh-baked bread you just made, or your home-brew mead. Finding out what the local spirits of place would like is as polite as asking your guest how she would like her tea: with or without milk, honey or sugar? When it comes to sacrifice, however, the shift of focus changes to become more introverted rather than extroverted.
I’ve previously in earlier articles described sacrifice as something that is not only of great value, but also as something that can help you “get to the next level”, so to speak. No, we’re not playing at Druids on World of Warcraft, but we are seeking to deepen our relationship with the land. Sacrifice is key in this regard, helping us to go deeper, to give more of ourselves in order to understand more of the land.
Many within the Pagan traditions see the Sun King as offering himself as sacrifice at this time of year, to be cut down as the grain is cut, to be reborn at Yule. Yet are we comfortable allowing the Sun King to do this each and every year, or should we also take our part in the sacrifice, participating rather than simply watching the cycles of life unfold?
And so I will spend the next few weeks walking the land, finding out what I can give, what I can do to deepen my relationship with it, to be an active contributor instead of a passive spectator. Some aspect of my self must be willing to die alongside John Barleycorn in order to understand the cycles of nature. Some sacrifice must be made.