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.
Druidry is hard work. If you want to establish a deep and meaningful relationship with the land, the gods and the ancestors you have to work at it, each and every day, really walking the talk and living your religious or spiritual path. Like most things in life, you get out what you put in.
At this time of year, things can seem crazy busy, with all the plans that we dreamt up over the winter months and put into action in the spring finally coming to fruition. Working as a Druid priest, not only do I have my own personal plans to attend to, but also those of the community. July and August are heavy months in my diary, filled with handfastings and weddings mostly. In the later summer months we are inspired to a deep commitment, not only in our work but in our love lives as well. If we want our harvest to be successful, we have to work at it.
The warm months encourage us outside, even though we may have a pile of work waiting on our desk. It’s important to experience these months physically, as well as on a spiritual level, especially here in the UK where sometimes the summer can seem so short. It makes greater demands on our time, and I find that I do not get nearly as much writing done from June to October as I would like, with other duties and the hot sunshine or warm rain calling me outdoors. It’s equally important to be outside in all kinds of weather, but perhaps it is because I was born in August that this month really appeals to me, with more thunderstorms, hot sunshine, refreshing rains and muggy weather. Though autumn is my favourite season, it can often be too short, whereas summer (hopefully) lingers on in the heat of the stones and the land, the smell of the rain, the flowers and the scent of mown grass.
So even though my work goes a bit nuts at this time of year, I take time out each day to remind myself of that commitment that I made with the land. To work with her, to honour her, to be with her, to learn from her. I hear the songs of the ancestors flowing through the land. My lady Brighid sings deep within my soul, every day.
Even though I had only a small window of opportunity yesterday to get out there, still I went to the field opposite my house to be with the barley before the harvest, listening to the brilliant rustle of the drying stalks under the sun, hearing the songs of the land and the troubles with the bluebell woodland beyond. Saying my prayers and blessings over the crop and the land, connecting with the earth and her nourishment, giving of myself in return was a necessary part of the day. Like being in any long-term relationship, it requires constant presence and not taking anything for granted. This was really brought home to me when I studied with Bobcat many years ago in the beautiful setting of the Cotswolds, when we discussed with the other students the gods of time. Working with time is a great learning curve, coming to learn how to relate to the gods of time, working with deep integrity and honesty.
So you will please excuse me if there are fewer posts between now and the end of August – in the few moments of brief respite from other duties and obligations, I’m probably out in the fields or forest, heathland or seashore, spending time with the ancestors, honouring the gods of time and reminding myself to be present.
Blessings of the harvest!
We’re getting all geared up for Year One this October at Druid College UK!
In Year One We will be looking at core principles and teachings of Druidry, Living with Honour, Rooting in the Earth, Working with the Ancestors, Animism and the Spirits of Place, Listening and Druid meditation, Awen and the cycle of creativity, Working with the Nemeton, Developing Authentic Relationship, Inspiration and the Poetic arts, Storytelling and cultural heritage, The Cycle of Life and the “Wheel of the Year”, Working with the Gods/Deity, Anarchism and the end of Submission, Emotions and “riding the energies”.