Today, I am a Flamekeeper of Brighid

candle-2The longest night is upon us. For three short days, we have watched the watery sun rise and set in the same place on the horizon, barely skimming the treetops at its highest point, filmed over by hazy clouds. This morning, it was impossible to tell just when the sun had risen, and indeed even though it has been up for half an hour, it’s just as dark as before, with heavy overcast skies letting in only a small amount of light. I lit a candle in my lantern dedicated to Brighid just as the sun rose somewhere behind the clouds, and in Her name I lit my solstice flame. The candle’s flame burns very low, just barely alight as it struggles amidst a pool of wax and an insufficient wick. There is the tiniest amount of light at the tip, with a small blue aura beneath. I look at it even as I type these words, and its struggle portends much to come.

It has been a difficult year for many. Across the Western world, we have been rocked by unprecedented political change. There is not much hope for the future. Political leaders do not have the common good in mind, and greed runs riot. Things have not changed for the better. Across the globe, war, strife and unrest rage, with millions of innocent beings suffering. And there is still more darkness to come.

But even so, we can still take hope that the seasons change, the sun’s light will return. My candle is guttering now, in a valiant effort to stay alight. I have tried to help it, tipping out excess wax, but the wick and wax balance is not favourable. Just as in today’s political, economical and social climate, things do not look in our favour. But still we struggle on. We are a light in the darkness, no matter how small.

Somewhere, behind the clouds, the low sun is rising. We are the sun, we are the earth. We are the wind and the rain. We are the wild beasts and the tame. We are our neighbours and our enemies. We are our deeds. We are our poetry. We are our ancestors. The flame might go out in the physical, but it still shines in our hearts and minds. Where does a flame go when it dies? A flame is always there, simply needing the right conditions to manifest. So too with all of life. We all depend on conditions, yet we all have the flame within, waiting to manifest. The spark of awen, the spark of inspiration. To share this inspiration is at the heart of all that I do, in the hopes that my words inspire others not to give up hope, to remember their connection to each other, to all of nature. The flame that burns within our hearts and minds can never be extinguished. Instead, it kindles a new flame in the hearts and minds of others, and we tend that flame with all that we have, for our future ancestors.

The wick is barely glowing now in my lantern on the windowsill. But the flame of Brighid burns brightly in my heart. Though there is a long darkness ahead of me tonight, and a long darkness for many to come, there is still a light that shines. Even the smallest light shines in the deepest darkness.

And so, I will tend to my flame today. Today, I am a flamekeeper of Brighid. And should that flame go out, I will simply light another, and another, and I shall persist.

Blessings of the winter solstice to you all.

 

(Originally published today on my blog, Druid Heart, on SageWoman’s channel at Witches and Pagans.)

 

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Living a Charmed Life

While the winds howl outside as winter lets us know that just because we have celebrated Imbolc, it doesn’t yet mean Spring is here, I have taken the last two weeks to rest in solitude. Staying home, organising and having a big clear-out, cleaning and simplifying has been a challenging fortnight. After the big family gatherings and the busy pace of the Yuletide holidays, Imbolc is often a quiet time for reflection. Being thrust into solitude after weeks spent with happy, noisy family members can be quite a shock to the system, but there are lessons to be learned with everything in life.

I give thanks that I have a home, a beautiful home that shelters me from the winter’s rages. As I lie in bed and hear the wind whipping around the house, the rain lashing against the window panes I remember that there are many who do not have this luxury, both human and non-human. As I walk outside in my garden, seeing the snowdrops and the crocus, the daffodils and the hellebore in flower I am reminded of the quiet, elegant beauty that exists even as the torrential storms pass overhead. The white serpent energy is slowly stirring in the ground beneath my feet, connecting all the areas of these sacred isles in a web of existence upon whose threads we can travel, if we dare. The hearth flame is utterly sacred, whether it is candles burning upon the mantlepiece or a cozy fire crackling in the evening. Being utterly awake to all these things reminds me of the constant stream of blessings and the sacredness of everything. There is nothing mundane in this world.

Chanting prayers to Brighid upon rising, giving thanks as the sun shines upon a new day, singing songs to the land as I dig into the earth of my garden, I know that there is no separation between what is sacred and what is not. I have come to realise that reciting little chants and prayers throughout the day helps to remind me of the sacredness of each and every moment, from preparing and eating food to cleaning the floors and windows, to laying myself down each night in the shelter of my home, my husband and cats with me. Inspired by the charms and chants, blessings and prayers found in works such as the Carmina Gadelica has led me to create my own, which is an incredibly fun thing to do in and of itself. But when applied to everyday life, singing my prayers throughout the day I really feel an ever deeper connection to the gods, the ancestors and the spirits of place. I can’t take them for granted anymore.

It brings a whole new meaning to living a charmed life.

Reblog: Darkness and the Winter Solstice

Here is a reblog from today’s post I put on on DruidHeart, my blog for SageWoman Magazine at Witches and Pagans…

The solstice season is upon us, and it’s only a couple of weeks before the longest night of the year here in the northern hemisphere. It’s a season of darkness and cold, where we are given the opportunity to find the gifts that darkness brings. It can be hard, when the rest of the world seems to be doing their best to stave off their fear with bright lights, noise and extended shopping hours, but if we are able to push beyond that we can see the sacredness of this holy time, and the exquisite power that it brings.

I am mostly a diurnal creature myself. I prefer to go to bed early and rise early, rather than staying up late. However, at this time of year the darkness catches up with me, and by 4pm it is pitch black out there. My usual sunshine nature turns inwards, and time for reflection and contemplation kick in. But that is not all there is to the darkness that pervades my life at this time of year. The sweet relief of darkness beckons me to release into its embrace, when edges are abandoned and we are allowed to float free in space and time.

Darkness breaks down edges and boundaries. Our visual nature cannot cope with darkness; our low-light vision is pretty terrible. We can’t see where the edges of things are, and they all become one in a tapestry of shades of black that we are unable to penetrate. This causes many to panic, terror rising in our bellies as our instinctive fear of the dark come to the fore. Through many millennia of existence, we have been creatures of the daylight, and know that our soft bodies are food for many things after the sun sets. This instinctual fear is still deep in our genes, as anyone who is out in the woods with bears and cougars at night can sympathise. Deep in our bones, we know that there is danger in darkness…

To read the full article, click HERE.

 

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.

Solstice Practice

This post was originally  displayed on SageWoman’s channel, on my blog DruidHeart at Witches & Pagans.

Around the winter solstice is the time of year when many people get together, families and friends, to celebrate the holidays. If we are fortunate, we have some time off to be together, all together in one place – we may not have such an opportunity until the next solstice season rolls around. It can be a wonderful time of loving hugs, good conversation and deep, belly filled laughs. It can also be a trying time, when the bonds of friendship or family can become tested as we are all thrown together, our usual routines and habits left behind and we are faced with situations that are perhaps out of the norm.

My home is usually very quiet, filled with deep silence and stillness. In that silence I find my personal sanctuary, where peace is around every corner. I’m not a big fan of crowds or noise. However, at this time of year, I leave behind my little sanctuary and venture out into the world of lights and noise, family and friends when I’d really rather be sitting on my meditation cushion in the dark, with a candle and some incense.

It’s quite a shift to deal with. There is constant noise around me, different noise to that of my own home. It’s the noise of other people, which I am not accustomed to. Loud televisions, conversations, arguments, laughter – it’s a bit of an assault on my senses. Dealing with other people’s behaviour when there is no opportunity to “escape”. I have to confront everything that upsets me head on, or lose my temper, say something in anger as my “sanctuary” is thrown out the window.

Or is it? Yes, it’s difficult. Even as I type this blog, there are interruptions by people walking in and out of the room, asking me what I’m doing and other various questions. Nemetona, my goddess of sanctuary, has taught me that she is ever within me even as she is without – I take her with me wherever I go, and where I go she is always there.

In my Zen practice, this time of year provides me with innumerable ways to really practice. Life becomes difficult when things don’t go our way. When we realise this, and when we see that life is simply going ahead whether we like it or not, things can become easier. I have to deal with behaviour that I don’t like – this gives me a chance to practice and to try to understand that person’s behaviour. Often I can see myself reflected in it, or see that they are lost in their own suffering. I can try to ease that, when I remember to try to understand it. When it just pisses me off, I’m not trying to understand, and anger can erupt. When this occurs, I realise that I am not practicing very well, that I am not aware of my own reactions and behaviour. It’s a constant reminder to look deeply at myself, to see my patterns and to alter them in order to have peace and harmony both within and without. My goddess and my Zen practice help me with this understanding.

I have two choices when I find myself in difficult circumstances – get upset or not get upset. When people are shouting in the kitchen, or using words unkindly, or their behaviour is totally out of sync with creating harmony, I feel a tightness, a contraction within my body. Getting upset with this only tightens that contraction even further, making me miserable, or lashing out in anger in a misguided attempt to alleviate the tightness within. Seeing people mistreat each other, taking each other for granted – all of these things can cause contractions within. Passive/aggressive behaviour, words that are intented to provoke, noise levels louder than they need to be – all these things cause a contraction within my body. I want to loosen that contraction, but how?

Sitting and walking meditation practice, daily, really help me through this challenging time. By sitting, I am aware of my body, and aware of my thoughts. I see patterns in my behaviour. I see the self that is screaming for attention, for comfort, for sanctuary. I also then see the illusion of the separate self, and the inter-connectedness of all things. We are all dependent on everything else – the sunlight, the rain, our parents, the air, food. Without any of these things we could not exist. We are in them and they are in us.

When people’s behaviour challenges us, it helps to remind ourselves of this inter-connectedness. They are in me, and I am in them. It’s easy to do when out in the forest, becoming one with nature. But in challenging situations, with people we are often more directly faced with egos and personalities, with habits and the ego’s constant self-regard. When someone says something that upsets us, instead of thinking “I’m so upset that he said that” we can just realise that he said something. That’s the truth of the matter. Someone simply said something. We can act on what they said, of course, if they are saying inappropriate things. But we don’t have to act on it in anger, simply in awareness. Things happen. People behave the way they do. We can either get upset and lose our practice, or we can see the opportunities to become even more aware of our selves. In this awareness lies peace.

Slowly losing our separate sense of self, our egos begin to dissolve. We listen more. We apologise more. We find a deep well of peace to draw from, where we nourish that which brings peace and harmony. We don’t ignore our feelings, but we don’t feed those that create discord. We’ve no wish to stay in that contraction, no desire to create it in others.

Use this time of year as an opportunity to practice, to see how in nature we are all connected. See how the awen flows, how we are inspired by each other in each and every moment. Use difficult situations as the chance to become aware of your self and the world around you. It’s not easy, I’m being challenged constantly. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to fully immerse in the flow of awen, and not to be bashed against the rocks and caught in the swirls and eddies in the river of life. When life isn’t going the way that you would like it to, simply remember that. When we are angry or depressed, remember that it is because life isn’t going the way we want it to. Work with those feelings, work with others, and the practice will begin to show its rewards in less contraction, less anger and less upset. Peace begins to seep in, trickling through out insight, aware of the delicious drops of awen upon our tongue.

Isn’t that what this time of year is all about? Peace and love, awareness of the darkness and the returning light, the times and tides of life. May this time of year bring you many chances to practice, and may you find true joy in that practice.