Samhain: Ancient and Modern

Here’s a taster of a blog that I put up yesterday for SageWoman’s channel at PaganSquare. To read the full post, click HERE.

samhain 1Calan Gaeaf (Welsh) or Samhain (Irish) begins at sunset of 31st October and runs to to sunset 1st November according to most Western Pagan traditions. If working by the moon, it is the first full moon when the sun is in Scorpio. If working by the natural landscape, it is when the first frosts bite. Samhain was termed the Celtic New Year, as it marked the ending of one cycle and the beginning of another. The Celts reckoned their days from sunset to sunset, and so the start of the year would begin in the dark time at the beginning of winter. Samhain marked the first day of Winter.

Calan Gaeaf, however, is a time that is not a time, and therefore some Pagans honour this tide and season from 31st October right through to the Winter Solstice. It is a time after many things have died, and there is a stillness to the air, an Otherworldly feel in the silence. It’s a dark time here in the UK, with long nights on our northerly latitude, and usually a very wet time as well. It’s not hard to see how these months could be seen outside of time, outside of the cycles of life, death and rebirth.

Calan Gaeaf, Samhain, Hallowe’en, All Soul’s Night – for many pagans this is the ending of one year and the beginning of another. It is often seen as the third and final harvest – with the last of the apples harvested, the cattle were prepared for winter and the grain stored properly. It is also a time when it is said that the veil between the worlds is thin, and the realms of the living and the dead are laid bare to each other. We are approaching the darkest time of the year, and the killing frosts and snows await just around the corner. It is a time of letting go, of releasing into the dark half of the year, and getting rid of the dross in our lives so that we do not have to carry them with us through the long winter nights. We consciously make the effort to live better, meaningful lives and let go of all that holds us back – our fears and worries, our anger and hatred. We nurture the beneficial and the good that we have in our lives, ensuring that they are well kept for our plans to come at the winter solstice. So the cycle continues.  READ MORE…

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Druid College UK are Crowdfunding for Scholarship Programme

At Druid College UK we are seeking people to help us create and sustain a scholarship programme, to enable those who wish to enroll but lack the funds to do so. At the moment we offer a discounted price for those on a low-income budget, but we only have a few places on the course where we are able to do this every year. With a scholarship programme, we would be able to extend this offer to many more people from all over the community who are seeking learning on their spiritual path.  Many of our students are also international students, and the travel expenses on top of the tuition fees can be a real challenge. So, if you can help us out by donating towards our scholarship programme, that would be greatly appreciated!

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/druid-college-uk-scholarship-programme

BBC Interview, Radio Suffolk

Here is the link to my interview from yesterday with Matt Marvel on the Lesley Dolphin show for BBC Radio Suffolk. I’m on from about 2:00 in 🙂  Available on BBC IPlayer for the next few weeks.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04nzszm

The challenge of the ancestors…

I’ve had some hard teachers in my life. Teachers who challenged me on every level, whose words inspired me to look deep into my soul, my habits and behaviour, my relationship with the world. Accepting a challenge is a very difficult thing to do. We have to be willing to take on that challenge, otherwise when it seems that the challenge is thrown upon us we can react defensively, our barriers instantly put up, walls to surround ourselves with.
I give my utmost thanks to my teachers who have inspired and challenged me in every part of my life. Even when I did not agree with their words, I saw the intention behind them, to wake myself up and be in the world, aware of my story and the stories of others. To these ancestors of tradition, know that you are honoured.

To be or not to be – that is the question…

Questioning your spiritual and religious path is something that happens to almost everyone who is travelling down the winding trackways of life, with its twists and turns, surprises and disappointments. For the most part, we try to find others who are on a similar path, to share in the experience, to help us perhaps with their stories, to provide guidance or simply reassurance that we are on the correct path. We as a species are a tribal people. We also love to put things into categories and boxes, in order to make some sort of sense of life. With religion or spirituality, it’s never that easy.

Our path may have been walked by others for many years – or we may be forging out on our own. It helps if we can name our path, as if in naming we can further clarify the intention behind the journeying. We can get caught up in the naming, trying to find where we fit in the world, finding some definition that makes sense to us and to everyone else. Sometimes there is no sense to be made, for if we are walking between worlds, defining it using the terms of just one world can make it seem less than what it really is, what it feels like to us, and how we experience it.

When we are researching our path, we come across definitions that others have used, that they may still use and hope that perhaps we will fit somewhere within them. Yet the fit isn’t quite right – either the hem is too low, the collar too tight, the colour is wrong. We may like the cut but not the pattern. It may not be suitable in all weathers – you get my point. When I first started out, it was on the path of Wicca, back in the early 1990s, then coming to Druidry shortly after the new millennium had begun. I’ve studied other religious paths along the way – Buddhism and Zen, Native American, Romany Chovihano, Heathenry and more. Always questing the awen, I’ve often found that there is no monopoly on wisdom. I’ve incorporated elements of all these into my own Druidry and, by doing is, is it still Druidry?

For me, yes – it is. My path is based on the wisdom of this land and the ancestors. This is the base from which I work, flavoured with ideas and teachings from other paths. Yet it is still, in essence, Druidry – at least in my own eyes. Others might disagree. For me, Druidry is simply a word that describes the language of my spirituality, of my religion. In it I find the wisdom of the oak – for me it is that simple.

Questioning and questing are valuable assets in our spiritual paths – they are a force against complacency, against blind acceptance. They make us address the issues of words and ideas thoroughly in a meaningful way that pertains to us alone. I’ve witnessed many thoughtful words from people looking at their own path, and trying to find a definition that works. Nell wrote on her blog, The Animist Craft of community (click HERE for full article). Lorna Smithers currently has found a new path that makes sense for her (click HERE) and Nimue Brown has discussed it in various forms on her posts, Disillusioned with Druidry and Walking your Own Pagan Path (and written a book, Spirituality Without Structure). Emma Restall Orr even touched upon this issue in “Essays in Contemporary Paganism” (Moon Books, 2013) in her essay, “After Paganism”. After spending around 30 years being a leading figure in the Druid community, she now states on her website [accessed 25 June, 2014]:

“Studying Druidry from the mid 1980s, I worked for The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, then The British Druid Order, where I was joint chief for some 9 years alongside Philip Shallcrass. In 2002 I left to found The Druid Network, which now runs without me. While my time within Druidry was enormously valuable, I would no longer term myself a Druid.”

Our beliefs and attitudes are always shifting, always questing the awen in different ways. We may walk a path for a while, for many years even, and then find that we’d rather follow something else or create a new path deep through the forest of our souls. We may find that we do not fit in with the definition others ascribe to a path, such as Druidry. We may shrug off what others say and continue to call ourselves Druids, feeling that the word itself, and not the adherents to it, adequately describe our own path.

For me personally, I’m happy with the term, Druid, even though I disagree with a lot of what other Druids do, just as much as I agree with them. Though others may say or do things I find embarrassing, or simply wrong, they do not describe my path any more than those who I find inspirational and wise. Are we trying too hard to find definitions of what we are, or what we aren’t, or is this an exercise that is necessary in order not only to define our own paths, but our own selves? Where does intention fit in with this idea? Are you happy with the terms you or others have ascribed to your own path? Do these terms matter?

Druidry and the Ancestors of Tradition

In Druidry, often the  ancestors are honoured from three different spheres that can overlap each other. These spheres are the ancestors of blood, who share our bloodlines; the ancestors of place, with whom we now share our physical space; and ancestors of tradition, those who have practiced in the same vein as we do.

Often, the ancestors of tradition can become relegated to the back-burner; most often when people think of ancestors it is those of their family lines that they think of.  Also, ancestors of place can take precedence in a setting where their songs are still widely sung and heard in the deepening twilight.  The ancestors of tradition, however, will always hold a special place in our hearts if we make room for them.

Some people may have inspired us on our spiritual and religious path. They may not even have been of the same spirituality or religion, but share ideals held in common.  Oftentimes, these can be seen as the more prominent people of the traditions, those who have garnered a supposed “higher” status due to their position, their accomplishments and their deeds.  The cult of celebrity is rampant even among us pagans.  Some are widely known not only for their virtue, but because of who they are – the Dalai Lama for example. Others have been known by the virtue of their deeds (not to say the Dalai Lama isn’t worthy) and an example that springs to mind is Mother Theresa, or Dr Martin Luther King Jr.  All these people can be ancestors of tradition if we hold the same beliefs, morals and attitudes as they do, even though they are not necessarily, or essentially pagan (whatever that may mean!).

Celebrity pagans abound, now due to social media, the increase of pagan books being published and television and radio appearances.  These people to whom the media seek out for whatever reason can be seen as an ancestor of tradition. We may not like what they are saying or representing, but they have become the spokespeople that others are listening to. This can be disheartening when you don’t agree with their principles or the execution of shared principles. It can also result in elation when there is agreement – yes, someone “important” is saying what I’ve been saying all along, what needs to be said, what needs to be done, etc.  Whether we choose to honour them or not is our decision.

Just because someone has written a book, or ten books, or appeared on television or the radio, doesn’t make them any more noteworthy than the pagan who quietly picks up litter by the roadside and sings to the sunset in her organic garden.  It is the cult of celebrity that has changed our perceptions.  Our ancestors of tradition incorporate all ancestors of tradition, from the inspiration gained from the wailing women in black on Anglesey who stood alongside the others to oppose the Romans, to the RSPB volunteer who speaks out against those who wish to harm birds of prey out of fear and ignorance.  We may take inspiration from acclaimed authors whose words strike a chord in our hearts – equally, we may take inspiration from the pagan family in the next town over who host seasonal celebrations in their backyard for all in the community.

Honour should not be bestowed simply because of celebrity.  Equally, honour should be bestowed from within as well as from without.  In honouring your very own self as part of a spiritual or religious tradition, you also honour those in whose footsteps you may follow, whose words we listen for on the dawn’s solar wind.

The ancestors of tradition are a vital part of my own Druidry, and consist of people from all over the world who share the same worldview as I do.  Some of them are considered celebrities, some no one has ever heard of. What matters most is that in honouring them I am also honouring the tradition itself, its values and what it means to be a pagan.  It is all too easily forgotten.

P.S. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Melange Magique, a pagan supply store in Montreal who have recently had to close down. That shop started me on my pagan path, and I will always be grateful, as I’m sure thousands of other pagans are for what they achieved these last few decades.