The blessing of Imbolc

Fantasy artwork by Mictones

Fantasy artwork by Mictones

Imbolc is fast approaching. Here in my garden in the UK, the crocuses are starting to come out, and a lone daffodil stands courageously amidst the dried, chopped stalks of last year’s growth. Traditionally, it was the time when the ewes began to lactate, providing much needed milk for the farmers whose food stores were becoming low. Nowadays, the sheep are birthing at different times of the year – at one farm here where I live in Suffolk, the farmer timed it so that they would birth during the Christmas holidays, as that was when he had the most time to dedicate to them, to see to their health and welfare during this time. Luckily for all, it has been a mild winter, all things considered – I would hope that if weather conditions were harsh, the farmer would be prepared to bring them all indoors. Some pagans celebrate Imbolc when the first snowdrops are out, but again that could be anywhere from beginning of January to March, weather depending. I’ve even seen snowdrops out on a sunny bank in December. Most Pagans today follow the festivals by the calendar year, and the 2nd of February (or the evening before, as the Celts began their day at sunset) is when this special time is celebrated.

It is also a festival connected to Brighid, whether it be the Celtic goddess or the Irish saint. If you do a little research into Her, you will find many connotations, associations and roles that she plays both in mythology and in the cycles of life and death. For me, Brighde as I know her is a little less known; she is the White Serpent of Albion.

You won’t find much lore relating to this aspect of Her. This is based on small snippets of information and a huge amount of experiential ritual, practice and connection. She first came to me several years ago at Imbolc, as I was performing a solitary ritual in my backyard on the mossy ground beneath the beech tree. I placed my hands upon the soft earth, grounding and feeling the earth’s energies stirring as the growing heat of the sun shone on my head and shoulders. An image of a large, coiled white serpent or a dragon beneath the dark earth sprang into my mind. The serpent was slowly stirring, rising up through the ground, slowly uncoiling towards the warmth and light from its dark and comfortable winter slumber. A flash, and suddenly I was connected to sacred sites across this whole island – Avebury and Glastonbury, stone circles in the Scottish Highlands, dolmen in Ireland and Wales, the tumuli several fields over. As quickly as it flashed through my mind it was gone, but I felt the energy, the connection thrumming through my veins for days afterwards. Even simply thinking about that experience brings the connection back, though every now and then I go to my little sacred spot in the garden and perform this ritual again, to re-establish or reaffirm that connection when the need arises.

This is Brighde as I know Her. The serpent energy that connects and flows through these lands. Her gift is awen, inspiration, the fire in the head and the fire in the belly. There is fire within her serpentine body, fire in the sky that she rises towards in her journey throughout the year. After the summer solstice she begins her descent again into the earth, into the darkness. Nwyfre, the life force, flows through her; she is the life force itself. Where she touches flows awen, inspiration and connection to that force. It is beautiful and powerful, a kind of power that sparks the soul and body into action, into seeing beyond the self and into a whole other world that might otherwise go unnoticed. Through that connection, everything is sacred.

I’ve worked with Brighde’s serpent energy for a couple of years now, and it sings to me in times of joy and in times of despair. When I need that connection I can simply remember that moment, if I am not able to go outside and touch the earth. Touching the earth is such a great experience – every Pagan should try it. It takes the gods, the ancestors, the elements out of an abstract and into being. It is life and death, the cycle, the spiral, the great dance.

And so I look forward to this special time of year, and re-establishing that connection, feeling my energies rising even as the serpent below me uncoils towards the surface. I can feel it in my spine, chakras opening as the serpent rises through my body. I can feel it humming in the spirals of my DNA. I can feel it resonating throughout the spiral galaxy and beyond.

I wish you all a blessed Imbolc and Brighde’s blessing to you all.

Never stop learning…

Never stop learning.  That should not only be a Druid mantra, but one for the entire human species!

I’ve taken this year off to really dive deep into new studies, experiences and finding a very deep Druidry within my soul.  So far it’s been exceptional – I have learned so many things about myself, about how my brain and body works, how I interact with others and how I take inspiration from the natural world around me.

I’ve always been an avid student of life.  I’ve always loved being a student – whether it was elementary or high school, college or university.  I’ve always had a hunger to learn more about the way life works, about philosophy, history, biology and ecology.  That enthusiasm has never faded, and I should hope with all my heart it never does.

Too often we can become complacent in our lives, thinking that we know all that we need to know for however long a time until the awen hits us in the face and we wake up, wanting to quest deeper, to learn more, to snack on those little hazelnuts of wisdom like the salmon in the sacred well.  For a while I was content that I had learned enough about Druidry, about Paganism – I now see how foolishly wrong I was.  There is always something more to learn, something new to experience. When we stop learning, we stop growing, both mentally and spiritually.  We have such capacity within our brains to ever expand our horizons, but the safe and comfortable instinct can easily override that desire to broaden the boundaries.

At this point in my life, when I will be turning 40 this August, I realise just how little I know about anything.  I also know that I will never know everything about anything at all.  What I do know is that I will never stop learning, never stop freeing my mind so that my ass will follow.  It always leads to wondrous new places filled with the wisdom that can only be gained by combining experience with learning.

I am devouring books and exploring the Celtic heritage of the land where I live, in East Anglia, UK.  Often overshadowed in my particular region by the Saxon ship burial and village kingdom near Sutton Hoo, historically there isn’t all that much available about the Celtic Trinovantes that lived in my area (the much more popular Iceni tend to overshadow them). I’m learning more about their stories, from academic research to spending hours listening to the land and the stories gleaned from the wind.

I’ve also spent the winter really looking at my self, the reasons why I have done things in the past, my motives and intentions for the future. It has been a real eye-opening experience, visiting all those dark and light places in the soul, seeing what works in harmony and what doesn’t. Exploring the nature of Truth, looking at how I can live the truest expression of my soul, fitting in not only with my true nature but the entirety of the natural world around me.  Re-reading Graeme K Talboys’ Way of the Druid lead to weeks and weeks of reflection on what the nature of Truth is to the Druid – I heartily recommend that book to anyone interested in the Druid path.  I’m sure there is a future blog post on it when I have managed to put down all that I have gleaned into words…

Taking time out for your self, for your studies and for your spiritual path can be the best thing you have ever done.  It shakes off the comfortable shackles of complacency and breathes pure awen deep into your soul.  It awakens you to life, and that is a gift in itself.

Spring Cleaning for the Soul

Spring – it certainly has sprung here in the UK!  The tulips and daffodils are out, the sun is shining (at least where I live on the east coast) and the earth is warm to the touch.  The birds have changed their song to ones of sunlight and warmth, of nesting and mating, of the months ahead and the lengthening days.  The foxes are creating an almighty ruckus at night, and the lizards are coming out to bask in the sun.

It’s time for spring-cleaning in my home – really cleaning the house from top to bottom, doing the floors and dusting the blinds, washing the windows and cleaning every nook, cranny and crevice. It’s amazing how great the house feels after a good cleaning. Every autumn and every spring I do a Big Clean, getting ready for the months ahead.  I feel I am overdue for my spring cleaning.

The chores of housework can seem daunting to some, boring or tedious to others.  To me they are a delight.  Really, I hear you say? Really?

Yeup.

I used to hate housework as a child – we had our daily chores of trying (and in my case failing) to keep our rooms and closets in order. We also had our chores every Saturday when my Mom got the house clean – I cleaned the bathroom, my sister dusted the living room and my parent’s room, my brother tidied the boot rack (to this day, I believe he got off too easily…) while my Mom did laundry and cleaned the kitchen. Dad was usually outside doing gardening in the summer or gone to work in the winter. Every Saturday morning, I dreaded the drudgery of chores when I’d rather be watching cartoons, reading or playing outside.

As such, my room and closet were always a mess, and I may not have done as good a job as I could have in the bathroom.  It’s funny how much a person can change though. I hate living in a messy place these days. I find that it depresses me, makes me sluggish and feeling just plain lazy.  When the house is clean, the dishes are done and the floors swept there is a different energy in the house. It smells clean. It feels clean. The energy seems to move easier, flowing with ease where it might otherwise become stuck on a stack on dirty plates, or picking up bits of cat fur from the “dustbunnies” on the floor (oh Spring, for anyone with a pet – you know what I mean in the shedding season!).

Doing the work is just as rewarding as having the clean house at the end. It can be enjoyable.  I can stop thinking about all my other jobs that are waiting – the essay due, the proofs of the next book, getting my dance class organised, arranging diary dates, thinking about upcoming workshops, retreats and speaking engagements.  I can simply focus on the task and let my mind rest while my body works. It’s marvellous.

Really taking time and care can also help you to get back in touch with your home.  Really picking up each item you dust, looking at it, feeling the surface that it sits on.  Feeling the dishes and warm water on your hands in the sink- washing dishes is lovely in the winter, when my hands are so often cold. It’s so nice to sink them into warm water and let them do their work.

I love housework. I love laundry. I love dishes. I love cleaning the toilet. I love dusting. I never, ever thought I would say that.

Now, I must turn that way of thinking towards all the chores – I mean delights, waiting in my garden!

Reblog: Welcoming the Light at the Spring Equinox

This is a reblog from my Druid Heart, at SageWoman’s channel on http://www.witchesandpagans.com:

The sun rises ever earlier, the days becoming longer. Soon the balance will tip, when the night gives way to the lengthening days. The spring equinox falls on March 20th this year, and after a very wet winter I am very much looking forward to it.

Watching the sun rise and set every day, honouring it with a short prayer and ritual gesture, I can attune myself to the cycles of the sun, of growing life and nourishing decay.  I honour the cycles of the moon, with ritual and spontaneous prayer upon seeing Her face.  Feeling these rhythms deep in my blood and bones, I also feel the shift as the equinox approaches. Similar to the autumn equinox,  I feel like we are on the edge of a knife, ready to be tipped over into a new cycle.

Unlike the autumn equinox, where all seems hushed, teetering on the precipice with dignity and solemnity, the spring equinox is filled with the songs of birds urging us to simply open our wings and fly into the great unknown.  Yet we must take that reaching towards the light as seriously as we take the descent into darkness, otherwise we could get burned. We must protect what we sow in the spring for it to reach fruition in the autumn…

To continue reading, please click HERE to see the full post. x

Beltane – welcoming the summer

Beltane – the fire festival celebrating the arrival of summer. All throughout the UK, last night and today Pagans and non-Pagans alike are joining in the festivities of this special time of the year, with Morris dancing and bonfires, Maypoles and feasting.  A long weekend awaits us with a bank holiday Monday, where many pubs will host barbeques and hog roasts, entertainment and more.

After a very long winter, this festival is most welcome.  At Imbolc and the Spring Equionox, we quietly ushered in the lengthening days, the gradual shift towards the summer solstice, noticing the ever changing cycles around us.  Now it is a time for the first of what I deem the “louder” festivals of summer, where drumming and dancing and cavorting are done with abandon.

Here where I live in Suffolk, it’s not quite time however.  I prefer to celebrate Beltane when the May is out; when the hawthorn flowers in the softest shades of pink-tinged white.  It will be another week or two yet before these blossoms begin the scent the hedgerows, and bring with them that sense of a definitive coming of summer.

For me, Beltane is also a time when it is finally warm enough to stay outside comfortably, to sit in meditation or to make love under the dappled light of the sun beneath the tender new canopy of leaves deep within the forest.  The Goddess is still waking up, slowly, soon to dance freely with the Lord of the Wildwood. It is not yet time to awaken her fully with shouts and drumming and the ecstatic pleasure of ritual love-making – not quite yet.

I can feel the anticipation growing inside me, as I long to reach out towards the sunlight and stretch my soul into the warm air, or to dance in the summer rain.  It is coming, it is coming…

Listen

They key to understanding and compassion often lies in the art of listening.  Many people hear what you say, but not many truly listen.

Often, when we are “listening” to someone speak, we are already forming our own replies in our minds before the person has even finished speaking.  It is impossible to actually truly listen to what they are saying when we are doing so. I make a conscious effort to truly listen, and still occasionally slip up, catching myself and saying “Listen”.  And when the person has finished talking, and I’ve truly listened, then I reply, if the answer is worthy.

The art of listening, I fear, is dying.  It isn’t simply physical sound, but also when we read articles, books – other people’s words in any form – that misinterpretation can happen because we are not truly listening to them, as we are too involved in our own opinions and attachments to the subject matter.  After developing the art of listening, I find that I am reading books that I read a year or two years ago, and I am getting so much more out of these books, as I am simply paying more attention to the voice contained within the pages, and not my own.

I remember watching a parliamentary debate for the first time on television, and being astounded at the complete disregard there was for not only listening, but even hearing.  Party members would get maybe a sentence or two out before their opposing party made as much noise as possible, expressing their displeasure before the person had even finished speaking. I remember thinking “is this the way that adults really talk to each other?  No one can understand anyone else – what is the point?” It was rude and obnoxious, and saddened me that these were the people who were running the country.

Have you ever observed two young toddlers together, who haven’t learned to speak yet? More often than not, they will make noises and “talk” to each other, and the other will listen with rapt attention before replying.  I love this so much – how is it that we have forgotten this simple wonder of sharing and communication with another human being?

On the internet, it is even easier to misinterpret, to not listen, because most of the time we don’t even consider that the person we are talking to is even a real person – they are an abstraction, an online presence of the real person.  It allows for rudeness and trolling as well, which would, I hope, never happen in a real life situation with people you don’t even know (and worse if it is people that are known!). So many people will read a blog such as this, and not truly read it, but coming in with their own opinions, and without the art of listening, not really understand the message that is coming across.  In our dualistic society, we have cultivated a culture of Us and Them, and if you are not with Us, you must be with Them, therefore what you have to say is irrelevant – oh, and I’m going to comment on your post. Or worse, people skim read and then comment – it is as disrespectful as interrupting someone in mid-sentence, or a parliamentary debate.

We can develop the art of listening in the Spring, when all of nature is awakening to the returning warmth and sunlight, the life-giving rains and flows of energy that run through the land and our very own souls.  Go outside, and truly listen.  Don’t simply think “I hear birds”.  Really, really listen to each bird in the multitude, not merely hearing their song but truly listening.  You will find a connection with that soul, and from there meet the multitudes of other souls we share this little planet with. You will also step outside the chattering of the self and experience a world of so many souls you cannot even begin to count, giving a much bigger perspective of the world by stepping away from the self.

In Druidry, especially in the Bardic traditions, we learn the art of listening.  To play music, to sing a song, to tell a story, to recite history, to satire current affairs, we need to really know the subject, to take it deep within ourselves and make it a part of our own story before we can tell it with any sort of meaning.  In order to do so, we must first listen with every fibre of our being – not just with our ears, but with our hearts and souls as well. Imagine if you did this with everything – your cat, your next door neighbour, the rising moon, a politician, the spider on your wall.  Everything has a story worth telling, and worth listening to.

When we listen, we make a connection that transcends the superficial relationships that are so prevalent in today’s society.  We reach out, soul to soul, in love and in respect, with honour.  We don’t even have to like the person, but we can still do so honourably, acknowledging their words as expression of their souls, which is turn is an expression of everything in the universe.

It gives a whole new depth, a whole new dimension to explore, and is well worth the effort.