Building a Devotional Practice with the Nature Spirits[caption id="attachment_3317" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Image by Hans Linde via Pixabay, Public Domain Image.[/caption]As Pagans, we can merely observe the eight High Days and then move on with our lives. As Devoted Pagans, we can develop a practice that we undertake daily that helps us to build better relationships with the entities, spirits, and allies in our lives.This is the fifth in a series of “Building a Devotional Practice with” presentations. The first three dealt with the Land, the Sea, and the Sky. In this offering, we continue our discussion of building devotional practices with the Kindreds. The first of our Kindreds discussions was about building a practice with the Ancestors. This presentation will deal with the Nature Spirits.Three Groups of Nature SpiritsI divide the Nature Spirits in to three groups. The first is the spirits of nature that represents creatures that we recognize in this middle world: creatures of the realms, land, sea, and sky. This would include mammals, inspects, fish, birds, etc. These entities have names that everyone understands.These creatures have correspondences that most people are aware of. Sharks are aggressive, foxes are wily, doves are peaceful, and cats are inscrutable. Some of these animals may be allies of ours. If they are allies, they may exhibit the kind of attributes we come to expect. By the same token, they may also exhibit qualities that are particular to our relationship with them.The second group of Nature Spirits are the spirits of place. These are not creatures, but elements in nature that have special or perhaps magical qualities that one would NOT necessarily associate with them. For example, some rivers in the ancient world were revered as sacred, like the Danube or the Seine. One may also discover places in nature that feel differently that others, that feel sacred, or holy, or even alive and sentient.Think about some of the rivers that you are familiar with: do they feel magical or are they just rivers? Think of other bodies of water that have caused a feel of awe or “presence” in you: these are the spirits in nature that I am talking about, all contained in the category of Nature Spirits. This kind of feel may include glades or canyons or long stretches of sky. If it feels holy or sentient or special, I would trust your intuition.Imaginary CreaturesThe final group of nature spirits are imaginary creatures. These are gnomes or sylphs or dryads or yeti, creatures that you have a connection to but are not generally acknowledged as existing in the real world. In the work that you do, these creatures may call to you and if they do, I would respond to them. Just because a unicorn may not exist in the real world, they may very well exist in your magical or vital worldThe Cycles in Our LivesWhat can the Nature Spirits bring to our lives and our practice? I believe that the one thing that the Nature Spirits can help us with is to give us an understanding of the cycles in the world and in our lives. The Nature Spirits, like us, live within the solar and lunar cycles that affect this world, our planet. While we as humans and many of these creatures live longer that a single solar cycle, we all take part in the cycles of renewal: birth and rebirth, emergence from our slumber, growth, flourish, harvest, decline, death and decay.Some of the cycles do not mean actual events: death and decay may just refer to times where our lives slow down to reflect the natural world around us. Emergence may describe the seed emerging from the earth, but it may also refer to a time in our lives when we break through the situations we have found ourselves in for some time. For spirits of place, they teach us of the specialness of those places and what those locations mean in our lives. For imaginary creatures, they have lessons to teach us as well. After all, an imaginary creature can be a liminal entity as well.Building Relationships, Building AltarsHow do we build a relationship with the Nature Spirits? In addition, where do we build a relationship with them? I think the best place for any kind of devotional is at an altar or shrine. For the Nature Spirits, this altar is best found in nature.One must be careful to not be too literal. If one wishes to build an altar to wolves, one does not have to build one in a wolves’ den. The idea is to build an altar or shrine to the wolves not among the wolves. While many of us would consider that nature is outside, it is not exclusively outside.Incidental AltarsFor altars in nature, I think that it is best to build incidental altars, or altars that are not permanent. These are called incidental because they are often made with items found on hand, at or around the location where they are built.I often look for three things in an incidental altar: a tree, especially one that has an indentation in it which can act as a well, and a fire analog. What exactly is a fire analog? This is something that represents a fire without being an open flame. My favourite choice of items for this is a red stone, like red jasper. Red jasper is red, like the sun, like the fire. Given a tree, an indentation as the well, and a red jasper, the hallows are all present.For the pantheists in the crowd, everywhere and anywhere is the altar or sacred place.What if the recognition you wish to bestow doesn’t require the presence of hallows? You may have a tree, a field of flowers, a stump, a rabbit warren, or any of several things which you feel are holy or sacred. I would recommend making offerings to that item and make an offering that is of value to that location. Yet what offerings should one make?What Offerings?Water is the perfect offering in nature. If any of the objects of your devotion are living creatures, they will appreciate and benefit from water. Should the object of the devotion is water or lives in water, I would recommend an offering that is left at the side of a waterway or body of water. If the entity to which you wish to leave an offering is imaginary, use the imagination to find a perfect offering. In fact, ask the entity what offering it would prefer.How does one do this? Sit, stand, or lay next to the place where you choose to make an offering. Listen to the world around you. Be still and listen. Close your eyes. After some time, you will feel a rhythm around you, the sounds of the place. Open yourself up as your immerse yourself into the sound and see what impressions come your way. Some may be subtle; some may be very direct and clear. Trust your intuition; trust yourself.You may find that a good offering is a poem or a prayer. It may be a song or a drawing. It may be something drawn in the dirt. Open your senses so that you can receive impressions from the world around you. Listen and learn. As you spend more time in your sacred place, with your sacred allies, you will come to a greater understanding of them. They will better understand you.Here In the Middle RealmBuilding a Devotional Practice with the Nature Spirits helps us to understand and cherish those who share this middle realm with us. These spirits share the cycles of the year and the dance of the seasons with us, yet sometimes, our cycles may be much longer than the usual annual cycles in our world.We see the tree, most often, as the symbol of the Nature Spirits. It spans the worlds, with roots that sink deep into the earth, past the Ancestors to the dark waters below, and branches which reach up to the heavens, into the Sky, to touch the Shining Ones. Between the world of the Ancestors below and the realm of the sky and the Shining Ones above, we, in the middle realm, give offerings and thanks.From Patheos Pagan - From A Common Well
Sol sistere,The Sun stands still.It pauses before moving on again.Face to the Sun,We call to the realms,Land, sea, and sky,Ever around us.We reach for the hallows,Well, tree, and fire,Ever around us.We offer to the Kindreds,Ancestors, Nature Spirits, and Shining Ones,Ever around us.With the breath of Inspiration,We reach for the Earth Mother,Ever beneath us,As we pause,With the Sun,Sol sistere.Solstice Blessings to all, whereever they may be.
The Unexpected Value of DevotionI had an unexpected insight while celebrating the Winter Solstice with one of my friends and fellow Druids. We talked about devotionals practices – one of the topics closest to my heart and closest to my practices - and I became aware of a couple of things that had happened over time.Let me start at the beginning.Need, typically personal need, is the beginning of prayer. We typically ask for those things that we can not easily acquire for ourselves. Some are found in the material world: money, a job, a new car. Others are more ephemeral: health, love, balance. Some of these things come to us externally, such as money, a job, and a new car. When we accumulate enough means to acquire a material object, it will be so. For things such as health or love, we can heal ourselves or be healed by others and we can pray to the Gods to help restore our health or the health of someone we love. For love, we can ask for love, but we can only give of our love, all the rest must also come from an external source. Balance, however, is a different thing.Balance arises out of imbalance and while imbalance may have taken some time to arise, the return of balance will also take effort. This effort will most likely be much quicker and longer lasting if one is to actively seek it as opposed to awaiting its arrival.Of course, the most practical way of making changes in our lives is to work on making them happen. Yet, it surely cannot hurt to engage the help of the kindreds in such an endeavor. Let us continue with the example of balance. Here is a small prayer that can be a part of one’s daily devotionals: “I ask for balance in my life. “Where none is found, “Help me to find it; “When things are askew, “Help me right the Way. “I ask for balance in my life.”If the need for balance in one’s life is the most important of one’s needs, I would say this small prayer daily and first thing. As I have mentioned previously in my discussions of daily devotionals, I believe that one must enter into the devotional practice read and cleansed. Therefore, wash your hands before any working. This has the practical value of willfully deciding to do the working by washing one’s hands first – perhaps a Pavlovian preparation – and that one is cleansed and ready to go.I believe that within a devotional practice it is also important to “do” something as well as “say” something. We already know what we are going to say. Let us develop what we are going to do to exhibit and strengthen our working in this manner.I like the idea of incidental altars through one’s home and workplace. They can be stealth altars that are relatively unnoticeable as altars or they can be full-blown devotional area where the idea IS for things to be seen. In either scenario – or in points in-between – let us divine a working.If we are working for balance, let us put something in balance in our working. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It need not be expensive either. It is the work that is important and not necessarily the materials.For this exercise, I will offer two scenarios. Both will use household items and will attract relatively little attention. For the first, one will need three shot glasses and two chop sticks. For the second, one will need a citrus fruit and a toothpick.Exercise #1: a) Say the devotional prayer. You may address it to a particular Kindred or just offer it to the universe: I ask for balance in my life. Where none is found, Help me to find it; When things are askew, Help me right the Way. I ask for balance in my life. b) Place two of the shot glasses upside down on a flat surface. Let the distance between them be less than the length of the chop sticks c) Place the two chops sticks on top of both glasses, so that they are parallel to each other which the ends sticking out from the rims of the shot glasses. d) Place the third shot glass atop the chop sticks, thus achieving balance e) For the adventurous or devout, place a small amount of water in the upright shot glass. f) Finish by saying “May I find the balance in my life.” g) If you have cats, they may want to contribute to you devotional work in a non-balanced way. Exercise #2: a) Say the devotional prayer. You may address it to a particular Kindred or just offer it to the universe: I ask for balance in my life. Where none is found, Help me to find it; When things are askew, Help me right the Way. I ask for balance in my life.” b) Place the citrus fruit on a flat surface. c) Place the toothpick on the top of the citrus fruit, thus achieving balance d) For the adventurous or devout, place another toothpick across the first one in the form of an equal-armed cross. e) Finish by saying “May I find the balance in my life.” f) If you have cats, they may want to contribute to you devotional work in a non-balanced way.I believe that by doing the work that the work will one day become you or become a part of you. By doing balancing work on a daily basis – intentionally and regularly – I feel that balance will slowly become a part of the way that you do things. It is very subtle. As a person focuses on the practice, the pursuit of that practice may very well incorporate itself into one’s life. i found this to be the case during my own Winter Solstice ritual workings and discussions with a good friend. It dawned on my that the desire I had been working towards had not only become a part of my practice, but a part of my life. It was the best Solstice gift of the season.The unexpected value of devotion is therefore two-fold. It allows us to exercise our virtues, especially those of perseverance and fertility. Perseverance arises by sticking to the practice, by do so because it is something you desire. Fertility arises because of the life we bring to the work that we do. By combining these two, we establish a practice and reap the unexpected rewards of the devotion we undertake.From "Journeys" by WitchesandPagans
365 Days of Discovery, Part 1As a follow-up to my blog “A Call to Miach“, I offer the following two-part dramatic piece that I wrote giving an alternate view on the death of Miach, as interpreted from the lore.Diancecht: “Be gone!”Miach falls dead under his father’s fatal blow to the headAirmid: “I bury you, brother. You, who were the greatest healer; sadly, there is no one to heal you. Is there anyone to mourn? Who will ever know? Our father, great but cruel; proud, but jealous, could not tolerate the thought that not only were you his equal, but you were his better as well.”Airmid: “Into my arms, brother. No cure can heal you now. I will carry you to the edge of the world which is where you will be safe. There you will be free; free from a father’s jealousy; free from a father’s threat; free from a wound thrice inflicted and twice recovered. I know that while you will be gone from this mortal plane, you are a God after all and will continue to help heal from the land of the Ancestors and from the land of the Shining Ones, though those here among the living and vital nature spirits will need you most and will call to you today, yea, and call to you tomorrow, yea, and call to you every day until Lir reclaims the land and submerges all in his primordial and infinite waters. Waters that flow on the land and you will be there; water that flows underground, and you will be there, water that flows into the stars at night and you will go there.”Airmid: “For surgery was your strength, my brother, and none could surpass you, not even our father. At the end, you healed yourself, not once, but twice, until his wretched sword did cut short a life that should still be here and vital. But how can it be that a God can die? Do we attain, sustain, and ordain ourselves to a world fraught with material pitfalls and fatality than even we Gods cannot escape? We live forever; it is true, but perhaps not in this form and not in this place. How can this be? Will all our powers, great and true, how is it that this has come to pass? That father strike son, three times wrong, and thus change vitality to mortality and then to leave his torn and lifeless body like a husk upon the ground? Does thus the healer fail in their appointed task and cause more pain in stark reversal of one’s calling and creed? The world changes too much on this day.”Airmid: “I walk, wearily, almost lifelessly, holding my brother, my mentor, my friend, he in my arms, light, lifeless, broken into halves where a whole once lived and breathed and flourished. I hold him up to you, Belenos Bright, and I ask that you warm what remains of his mortal shell and he diffuses into the three realms and surrounds us all who care to feel, to call, and to recollect. Grant, O the Many Gods, that from this senseless death that some good may arrive, arise, and sustain for all the great works that he did. Let spring forth from this tragedy some semblance of gift or miracle that some balance may be restored. To one who healed all give the rest of us something with which to heal ourselves at his physical absence.”Airmid: “Here, here beside the ocean where all life began, I put you to rest my brother. Let this red cloth hold your body and let me wrap it tight so that it may hold your body together as one. Red, like the blood of the Mother; red, like the blood of your patients; and finally, red, like your own blood. I bind you in the cloth of this world as we prepare you, in essence, for our appreciation of you in the next world.”Airmid places stones around the place where Miach is laid to restAirmid: “Now, brother, I surround your body with these stones, selected by my hand, to encircle you, to protect you, to mark you off. Lir will watch over you for all time to come. I will cover you with my cloak so that you will be warm, though I doubt that warmth preoccupies you in any way now. Yet, to ease my soul, I will cover your body with this cloak. It is a magical cloak, and may it bring blessings your way.”Airmid places the cloak over the bodyA breeze arises from the Ocean and whirls around the grave of Miach. From this breeze, Miach’s voice is heardMiach: “Worry not, my sister, my Healing Goddess, for while I cannot stand next to you in the flesh, I can still be next to you – always – in the spirit. What does location matter if one can be anywhere? We are fooled as Gods sometimes, fooled into thinking that we have powers and abilities in the corporeal world when in fact we have powers in whatever world we find ourselves. Do not grieve for me because I have greater things to bring into being and I also will continue my work, whether I am on this plane of existence or not. I am not so easily dismissed or destroyed.”Airmid: “I have heard your words and I will look for those greater things that you have promised. I will hold vigil over your resting place this night and will keep you company, although as I see now, it is my company that you have kept. I will light a bright fire under the fires of the skies, bright lights that punctuate the sky and give us pause to think and dream and wonder. Countless are the Shining Ones that watch us from above and guide us in our days.”Airmid: “The fire now lit; the flames cast long shadows against the stones of Miach’s grave. As I watch the movement, I recall so many scenes, acted out by shadow and light against the backdrop of this place, this grave, this time. It is one of the ironies, one of the mysteries of life that we Gods may come to some end, some finality, and some cessation on this plane. I do believe Miach when he says that he will continue his work, wherever he may be. One does not need to see a God to pray to him, for it is rarely so that people see the very divinities to which they address their needs.”Airmid: “Flicker, flicker, flame; what is the nature of the Gods in this world, in any world? One day we are and then we will be, never thinking of an end, never thinking that an end is even in the remotest of possibilities. How odd is it for a God to die? How impossible is it for a deity to come to some death? I cannot understand it in the depths of my being. Yet these battles we have seen of late, in an around Mag Tuired, have bent the fabric of the very reality that we have come to understand and enjoy. How can one explain that Gods are falling in battle by the hand of their enemies? How can one explain that Gods are falling to the sword by the hand of their own family? How has it come to be that we are so inured in this world that we can be injured at all even fatally? This I cannot comprehend.”A raven lands on one of the stones of the cairnRaven: “I thought it might be time for my appearance, as with a passage so recently noted. While it is my usual practice, or so it is said, to come to claim the dead and to clean their bones, this one is different. This one did not live or die in the usual manner of mortals and his job is far from over. My appearance is not as premature as it is unexpected. I come not for your brother, my dear, as much as I come to you. I can see that these events weigh heavily upon you and that you have many questions which remain unanswered, unsettled, and unspoken. They are powerful questions precisely because they have no answers, no place in this world.”Airmid: “Morrigu, Mother, you come to me, dark as night, when I am feeling dark as the night that surrounds me, dark as they night that engulfs Miach, dark as the night that I cannot see past. I know that we live in many dimensions and on many planes, but I always thought that we would continue here on this plane. Yet now I see it is not so and that this continuity is somehow twisted or flawed and I cannot comprehend that my brother – a God – could be here, vital one moment and bereft of life, cold, still, unmoving, the next. I know he exists in other planes – he has visited me here, speaking from the wind blowing from the west across Lir, the great ocean. So, I know that it is not merely voices that I hear, it is HIS voice. He is there, yet I cannot extricate myself from here.”Next: 365 Days of Discovery, Part 2
A Call to Miach, Part 1In my daily devotionals, I call to four healing Gods and Goddesses: Diancecht, Miach, Airmid, and Brighid. I do my broader healing work under the auspices of Diancecht, healer of the Tuatha de Danann, and his children Miach and Airmid. Miach was the God of Surgery and Leechcraft; Airmid was the Goddess of Healing and Herb craft.What do we know of Miach? Miach was the son of Diancecht, fabled healer of the Tuatha de Danann.From the Second Battle of Mag Tuired:33. Now Nuadu was being treated, and Dian Cecht put a silver hand on him which had the movement of any other hand. But his son Miach did not like that. He went to the hand and said “joint to joint of it, and sinew to sinew”; and he healed it in nine days and nights. The first three days he carried it against his side, and it became covered with skin. The second three days he carried it against his chest. The third three days he would cast white wisps of black bulrushes after they had been blackened in a fire.34. Dian Cecht did not like that cure. He hurled a sword at the crown of his son’s head and cut his skin to the flesh. The young man healed it by means of his skill. He struck him again and cut his flesh until he reached the bone. The young man healed it by the same means. He struck the third blow and reached the membrane of his brain. The young man healed this too by the same means. Then he struck the fourth blow and cut out the brain, so that Miach died; and Dian Cecht said that no physician could heal him of that blow.35. After that, Miach was buried by Dian Cecht, and three hundred and sixty-five herbs grew through the grave, corresponding to the number of his joints and sinews. Then Airmed spread her cloak and uprooted those herbs according to their properties. Dian Cecht came to her and mixed the herbs, so that no one knows their proper healing qualities unless the Holy Spirit taught them afterwards. And Dian Cecht said, “Though Miach no longer lives, Airmed shall remain.” (Gray)So how can this be?How can a god be killed?If we look a little further in the text, we find this verse:123. Now this is what used to kindle the warriors who were wounded there so that they were more fiery the next day: Dian Cecht, his two sons Octriuil and Miach, and his daughter Airmed were chanting spells over the well named Slaine. They would cast their mortally wounded men into it as they were struck down; and they were alive when they came out. Their mortally-wounded were healed through the power of the incantation made by the four physicians who were around the well. (Gray)So, here we have a contradiction. Earlier in the text, Miach is killed by his father – also a healer. Later, Miach is helping his father to heal the wounded along with his sister. The conclusion that I have come to is that the story of Miach’s death is an addition that was added b y the scribes who transcribed the stories. Do I have evidence of this? No. Is this my intuition? Yes, it is.Pre-surgery practicesWhen I or other friends and family members are going in for surgery, I ask them to inscribe Miach’s name, in ogham, on the side of their body on which the surgery is to be done. I, and others, have had good success with this approach. I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to have a on-body talisman for healing.A Recent Experience with MiachOn Tuesday past, I found myself seated in a dentist’s chair for a root canal. This was my second root canal and after my first experience, I was deeply dreading the events to come. My current dentist assured me that he would do whatever he could to make me comfortable and so we began.The dentist was right, the procedure was relatively pain-free. However, since the process took a certain amount of time, I was feeling very overwhelmed by it all: the sounds, the feeling, the understanding of what was being done. I was dosed with several different pain killers and nitrous oxide as well and at one point I decide to call out to the healer who I thought could help the most, Miach, God of Surgery and Leechcraft. While I wasn’t being leeched, I was having dental surgery.I feel Miach’s name right in the center of my body, right about the area of my heart chakra, and I just spoke into that place. The more I spoke into that area, the stronger the feeling grew until the point where it seemed as though I would burst. I released all of that feeling and it pulsed outwards from me out into the universe.PresenceIn what seemed like seconds, I felt the presence of Miach. I have never seen Miach, but I have an idea what he kooks like. A person of slight build, medium height, dark hair, and a face with no features was there, reaching out to me. I could feel his presence surround me and I became oblivious to the drilling and other work that was going on around me. As long as I kept up the internal chant of “Miach”, I felt him right there with me.As the procedure lessened in intensity, I let up on my call to Miach and I slowly felt his presence withdraw and I felt myself return to the present. When the procedure came to an end, I felt a relief of having the process completed, but I was also thankful that I had a few moments together with Miach.More Than Just with DentistryDo I think that this process only works for dental work? Not at all, I call to Miach for a number of healing-related modalities. For example, when I am having surgery, I inscribe Miach’s name on my body when I go in for the operation. I try to put his name – in ogham – on the same side of the body on which I am having said surgery. If I am doing healing work for others, I ask them to do the same: write Miach’s name on their body, on the same side that the surgery will be performed. Should the surgery is one the midline, I am them to do the inscription on the midline of their body somewhere.If doing such artistry is not possible, I ask people the exact time of their surgery and envision the name of Miach in ogham inscribed above them and energized – with their permission, of course.General Requests for Well-BeingWhat about for general, everyday requests for well-being? I think this methodology does work. Let me give the bullet points:Begin1) Feel the healing god’s name right in the center of my body, right about the area of my heart chakra. Speak their name into that place.2) Continue speaking their name into that area. The more one speaks into that area, the stronger the feeling will grow.3) When one feels that the crescendo of calling and filling has reached a peak, release that pent-up energy and feeling out into the universe.4) Once the energy has been released, open yourself for the return of the energy or for the presence of the healing deity. This is especially enhanced, I believe, if one has built a relationship with that deity previously.5) Once you feel them present, continue to call their name into that center place. Feel the name resonate through you as you feel their presence around you.End6) When the time for your procedure or working is complete, begin to lessen the calling of the name, until it is a whisper.7) As you speak the name a final time, feel them linger for a moment before they depart.8) Once they have departed, wait a few minutes to return to center in your regular place in the world.9) Thank the deity for their presence and their help.Miach did not die at the Second Battle of Mag Tuired. Somewhere, somehow, the story was twisted and changed, yet the mistake can be corrected. Miach is there for you for any healing that you may need. If you need Miach – or any healer – call out to him, make an offering to him, and afterwards, make sure to thank him.Parts two and parts three of this post will be a short play that I wrote about Diancecht, Miach, and Airmid. I hope it meets with your approval.Works CitedGray, Elizabeth (translated by). “Cath Maige Tuired.” n.d. www.sacred-texts.com. Web. 05 03 2020
Times of UncertaintyWe find ourselves today in times of uncertainty as the Covid-19 pandemic reaches out to touch all our lives. We call to the Kindreds to protect us in these times.There are certain, practical things that we can do to protect ourselves: limit our exposure to others, washing our hands, being aware of the potential for contamination in the world around us. Practical hygiene will go a long way in protecting us in an immediate sense.As people with relationships to the spirits and Kindreds, this is an excellent time to call to them daily to ask for their help and protection and to thank them for the blessings we already have. I truly believe that they listen and even an offering of “thank you” is an offering, nonetheless.As a leader and as a priest, if I can be of any assistance, please feel free to reach out to myself or any of the Mother Grove and / or Clergy Council for assistance. If we cannot help you directly, we will find someone who can.Blessings,Rev. Jean (Drum) PaganoArchdruid, ADF
Building a Devotional Practice with the Ancestors
As Pagans, we can merely observe the eight High Days and then move on with our lives. As Devoted Pagans, we can develop a daily practice that helps us to build better relationships with the entities, spirits, and allies in our lives.
This is the fourth in a series of “Building a Devotional Practice with” presentations. The first three dealt with the Land, the Sea, and the Sky. In this offering, we begin our discussion of building devotional practices with the Kindreds. The first of our Kindreds are the Ancestors.
I divide the category of Ancestors into three groups. The first are Ancestors of the Blood. These are the people that are responsible for us being here in this world. They have provided the DNA for our bodies and provide a lineage, the accumulation of which is who we are today. Regardless of whether we know who our parents are, it is our blood relations which are in our blood.
If we were fortunate enough to know and grow up with our direct ancestors, then we are all the richer, because they then not only offered their genetics to ourselves, but also their presence in our lives. While we can make many choices in our lives, the determination of our ancestry is beyond our immediate control.
The second group of Ancestors are Ancestors of the Heart or Hearth. In ADF, we have Hearth Cultures, such as Irish, or Hittite, Nordic, Baltic, etc. Ancestors of the Hearth are those people or entities that come from those hearth cultures and we feel an affinity towards them.
For example, Cuchulain, the hero of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, may be an Ancestor for some people. Vercingetorix is an Ancestor for some. He was the king and chieftain of the Averni tribe, who led the Gauls against Julius Caesar in the Gallic Wars.
Ancestors of the Heart are Ancestors that we admire, like Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, who led a failed revolt against the Roman occupation of England. Albert Einstein is another potential Ancestor of the Heart, as someone we admire. Ancestors of the Heart are typically not related to us by blood but are those whose spirits resonate with us.
The third group of Ancestors are Ancestors of the Bone. These individuals are buried beneath our feet, here under the ground on which we stand. These are those who have gone before and are related to us only by location. They may have been buried beneath our feet a hundred years ago or a thousand years ago. They are Ancestors of Place. The Ancestors of of Place understand this land because they lived on this land before we did.
What can the Ancestors bring to our lives and our practice? I believe that the one thing that the Ancestors can help us with is to give us guidance. They have experienced many of the same things that we do: pain, loss, sadness, uncertainty, depression, job loss, economic concerns, droughts, famine, and other challenges. They also have experienced the opposite side of those emotion: joy, satisfaction, pleasure, fulfillment, bounty, and good harvests.
How do we build a relationship with the Ancestors? In addition, where do we build a relationship with them? I think the best place for any kind of devotional is at an altar or shrine. Where would you usually interact with your Ancestors? This would probably be a good place to start. For myself and my family, the kitchen or dining room was where people gathered to meet and share time together.
The kitchen table was the center of the family life. It is the center of the hearth, and the heart of family life. The living room was basically unused; the family room was for passive interacting, such as watching television or reading a book. The kitchen table, however, is where matters of the heart and hearth were discussed. Life percolated around the table and there was always another chair available for those who came later.
Now that some of my family has passed onto being Ancestors, I have placed my Ancestor Shrine/Altar in the kitchen. It is the first thing one sees when they walk in the door. The Ancestors are the last ones that see you as you walk out the door. I take comfort in the fact that they are watching my back.
Are pets Ancestors? I think so. They are more than passing entities in our lives: they are family members that inhabit the home with us. I think that pets really participate in two Kindreds: Ancestors (once they pass on) and Nature Spirits. Can pets bring us the same guidance that our human Ancestors do? I do feel that they lend their presence to our environs, regardless of where we may be.
What does one put on their Ancestor altar? I think images of our Ancestors are a good thing: photographs, drawings, articles, any thing that invokes their memories for those that visit this altar. Dog tags, cat toys, stone resemblances, even a dog treat or a small bit of catnip. I also like to place my offerings amongst the items on the altar.
What can one use as offerings? I like to offer things that the Ancestors can consume, like water, or alcohol spirits, ideally 100 proof or above. Spirits for spirits, I like to call these kinds of offerings. The beauty of water and distilled spirits is that they will evaporated, according to the laws of nature. The magic of water and spirits as offerings is that they will diminish as the Ancestors consume them. When they are gone, one need only to fill them up again, and the cycle of giving and receiving begins again. In the case of alcohol spirits, one may find it necessary to clean the glass or vessel once the spirits have disappeared.
I try to make sure that the offerings do not run dry. I like to feel that the continuity of offerings and the continuity of building a relationship with the Ancestors and myself can continue unabated if the offerings are there for them. In all reality, if the offerings run dry for a day or two, the nature of the relationship with the Ancestors will not suffer. Other acceptable offerings are flowers, either fresh or dried. Fresh flowers bring life to the altar; dried flowers or plants brings a longer offering, which are Ancestor-like in their own plant way.
Outdoor altars and shrines are also a wonderful way to commemorate the Ancestors in a natural setting. I have seen stone cairns erected at memorial services and I believe that such cairns can also be constructed in places that are meaningful for ourselves and perhaps for the Ancestors. One such example would be to add a stone for each person or being that passes away. One may write their name on the stone, or one may just keep a silent and invisible recollection of those who have passed. An offering of beautiful stones or a bowl of water will act as a ongoing offering for those commemorated in this setting.
One thing I do during my daily devotionals is to say the names of my Ancestors, human and non-human alike, aloud. I say their names: I let them know that they are not only remembered, but that I call out to them daily, to keep the link going between myself and them. This lets them know that I remember them and by committing it to memory, it keeps them vital and active every day. I also write them down, if one day my memory fails me, and I need to remember their names, or maybe those that come after me will do the same. Maybe they will add my name to the list.
There are those, however, that have troubled relationships with their Ancestors. I know that some people take issue with their Ancestors being slave owners, criminals, or generally bad people; for these people, perhaps it is best if we can find it within ourselves to forgive them. They cannot change the past and neither can we, but at least we can leave the past with a semblance of peace as opposed to the stain of turmoil. Hopefully, we can find someone in our ancestral line that we can reach out to for guidance, inspiration, and whatever interaction with this world we envision they can do.
Another nice touch for an altar is light. I always have a lamp that I keep lit for the Ancestors. I use a low-watt LED light bulb that uses very little power and does not heat up the area. A candle is also a nice touch, but since I have cats, unsupervised open flame is not a good idea. A good source of light are LED candles or anything that generates or reflects light.
One interesting thing that a mirror brings to an Ancestor altar is that it allows one to see change over time. The Ancestors looking back at them from the Ancestor altar never age at all. The altar we build today will perhaps welcome us someday.
Building a Devotional Practice with the Ancestors helps us to remember and cherish those who have gone before. We do this in our lives, in our hearts and hearths, and on the land on which we live and worship. The placement of a vessel and liquid is a beautiful way to commemorate and connect our worship and our practice since it reminds us of a well. . Our offerings go to the Ancestors through this vessel and their blessings return to us in the same way.
Building a Devotional Practice with the Sky
Working with High Days is a wonderful thing, but High Days come and go eight times a year. What can someone do if they want to develop a monthly, weekly, or daily practice? This discussion will investigate building a devotional practice with the Three Realms, namely, Land, Sea, and Sky.
In coming to the sky as the object of devotional practice, it is a canvas upon which things are painted. The sky presents many different images, constantly changing and therefore offering many opportunities for devotion. There is dawn, dusk, sunrise, sunset, morning, afternoon, evening. If we separate the day in quarters, there is sunrise, noon, sunset, and what may be called “stars”, which is midnight. Not only is the time of day significant, but the events that present themselves in the sky are also significant. Just as water flows in a stream, the sky presents movement and change. There are many opportunities for devotion.
Just as the ocean seems endless in span and in depth, the sky is very much like that, but in an opposite direction. Where there may be a bottom of the ocean, there is no limit to the sky: it goes on forever and onwards. Our opportunities for devotion are not with the sky itself, but for what presents itself in the sky. This may include daytime observances such as sunrise, noon, and sunset. It may offer awe and devotion to the liminal times of dawn and dusk. It may observe instances such as the movement of clouds, and the failing of rain or snow, or the presence of storms, both great and small.
Sunrise and Sunset
Perhaps the most obvious object to see in the sky during the waking day in the Sun. There are many opportunities for devotion depending upon the position of the sun. Since in my daily travels I often see the sun come up and the sun set, I find this to be a perfect time to offer a devotional. As I see the sun break over the horizon, I say the following devotional prayer:
Red in the morning sky,
Nothing escapes your view;
I see your face at dawn.
Conversely, when the sun begins to sink beneath the horizon, I offer this devotional to act as a bookend to the one from dawn:
Red in the evening sky,
Nothing escaped your view;
I see your face at dusk.
For me, this is a way to bring a devotional working full-cycle. There is a lot of day between sunrise and sunset, but I like to acknowledge that the sun, overhead, sees all. It is a reminder of one of the cycles in our lives.
It is possible, depending upon where I am, that the only offering I have to Dawn and Dusk is the devotion itself. I rejoice in the opportunity to witness this event. If one has a fire nearby, an offering of sweet-smelling herbs is quickly consumed, and the resulting scent is a gift.
What to offer the Sky?
In making offerings to the sky or to solar events, one of the things one must determine is what kind of offering does one make? While water may be the ideal offering on land, it is rather difficult to offer it up to the sky. Since we often consider the sky to be the realm of the Shining Ones, then we can also make offerings of things that can burn, if a fire is present, or something reflective, whether it be mirror or crystal. In the most minimalist sense, the words that we speak and the act of devotion itself can provide the offering for the moment. When we consider devotional practices relating to the sky, especially lunar practices, we will devotionally empower water that we may use to offer to the sea.
A Diverse Offering
Since the sky is in some ways a screen upon which events occur, the offerings that one makes may act as an accompaniment to the event that are unfolding. To make a devotion to a storm, percussive sounds, such as the beating together of sticks may be employed. If one is honouring a rain event, be it gentle or strong, the collection of the water that results from the rain becomes an offering one receives during the devotional. When the wind is the object of devotion, then one may either listen meditatively to the sound of the wind or make sympathetic sounds like the wind while the wind blows.
Light and sound are gifts from the sky that often are products of the weather around us. I like to use sympathetic methods for making and accepting offerings when such things occur. If light is the result of the action at hand, then attracting or reflecting the light seems and acceptable method of acknowledging the moment during the devotional. If sound is produced, then likewise I think a good methodology is to make sound along with the event.
The sound of the wind or the sound of the wind moving through other things like trees and plants and grasses are gifts that we receive just by being there at the time it happens. It is a gift of the moment and is a great way to anchor our experiences in the natural world. Therefore, in some ways, offerings may be made for that which has already been received, such as these wind-driven sounds.
Entity or Event?
A few years ago, at Midnight Flame Festival, we began doing Dawn Devotionals around the fire. Each person would say a few words and make an offering to the fire. The subject of the devotionals were typically Gods or Goddesses: Ushas, Eos, or others. I find this to be a beautiful way to honour these Beings. It occurred to me at a later point, that one could also honour to event of the dawn as opposed to the dawn itself. This is in no way a diminishing of the importance of these Gods and Goddesses but is a way of devoting to the happening as opposed to the personification. These liminal beings are powerful and worthy of honour, but I also feel that the events are given to us as gifts as well. Perhaps it would be best to honour them both or to do so on alternate days.
What Kind of Offering?
I like to use the materials at hand when doing ritual and/or devotional work. When making a sky-based offering, I believe that reflective or absorptive materials are best. A mirror with a bowl of water on it and a stone or perhaps a crystal in it is a way to offer water and stone, the two other pieces of the realms, to the third realm, the sky. If one were to place such a mirror and bowl somewhere, it could be a static place to do the daily devotional. As with other realms, the evaporation of the water represents the consumption of the offering. If rain is one of the events to be observed, the collection of water then presents itself as an opportunity for offerings in other places.
When to make the offering?
If the time of the devotional arises during a weather incident, do the devotion while the event is unfolding. The prayer, blessing, or offering will be consumed when it is transmuted by the fire or carried away by the winds. The fire and the winds will find their way into the sky. What remains is the memory of what was done and the knowledge that it is now on it way.
The sky is accessible to most of us every day. Either by starlight or by sunlight, we can experience and make devotionals to the sky every day. It is nice to have a photograph of the sky on a sky altar. If we find ourselves at a desk for our work, a picture of the sky will allow us a way to connect with the sky even if we cannot be outside at that moment.
For those incidental moments when we are called to devotion, and offering of herbs to a fire, smoke to the sky, or herbs to the wind provide a way to make a devotion when the time is just right. Keeping herbs as offerings for such purposes can be done without taking up a lot of space.
I call out to the sky:
That which stretches forever
Upwards and onwards.
I offer you water you incense
And sweet-smelling scents,
That as they move upwards
They mingle with your breezes
And your currents
That move through the places in my life.
There is no life,
And I honour the life in us both.
I will make these offerings
To you with regularity
Into the skies,
Like clouds rising from the land.
Thank you for the blessings
That you bring to my life.
So be it!
Urban Earth Mother
I discovered the Urban Earth Mother. She wasn't hiding. Heraclitus said "Nature loves to hide." I agree. I never thought I would see her with my own eyes, but she was there. Yet, I have. Somewhere between Texas Imbolc and Pantheacon, I found myself with long layovers at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and that is when I found her.
I love to travel, and I love to fly. I think it is important as the Archdruid of ADF that I get out and talk to people face-to-face. As we all know, a lot is missed with virtual communication. I believe people want to see their leaders, not just hear about them. I was doing just this when I discovered the Urban Earth Mother.
It is inevitable, especially with the uncertainty of air travel, that one gets delayed. This seems to happen more and more these days and it happened to me at ORD. As opposed to sitting in a crowded area with lots of talking and announcement, I went in search of some peace and solace. I found it!
She is here!
My search brought me to a small rotunda between several concourses. At the end of Concourse G in Terminal 3, there is a small rotunda and I decided to go up the stairs to see what I could find. As I reached the top of the stairs, I passed a USO club, a Mother’s Room, and then an indoor garden and its accompanying spirit that I call the Urban Earth Mother.
The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) has been busy working on Sustainability. As part of this sustainability, the CDA has installed vegetated roofs, 232,534 square feet of them to be exact, at both Chicago O’Hare and Midway airports. Vegetated roofs help reduce the heat island effect, lower operating costs, double the life cycle of roofs, increase storm water retention, reduce air emission impacts, and reduce noise.
In 2013, the CDA installed an apiary at ORD with a total of 33 beehives. These beehives house approximately 1.3 million bees and is the largest apiary at any airport in the world. I can only imagine that Hannahannas, Earth Mother of the Hittites who has a bee as a messenger, would be impressed.
An Urban Garden
When I walked up the stairs, I was impressed to see something I have never seen before: an Urban Tower Garden. This is where I found this Urban Earth Mother living today. Growl lights illuminate the garden. Nearby windows are very large and stretch about 10 meters in height and 40 meters in breadth.
There are 24 columns that are located below the grow lights and they have multiple, alternating opening in which plants are growing. These plants include Swiss chard, sweet basil, scallions, cabbage, and sage, to name a few. These columns have hose links for watering purposes and the plants do reach skywards towards the (grow) light. With all the noise that one may find at an airport, it is relatively serene around this garden.
Near the back of the garden, close to the windows, new plants are growing. They begin their lives here, in these trays. This is their nursery, where they grow from seedling to plant. Therefore, once they reach a certain height, they are placed into the pillars. These plants get a combination of grow lights and of natural light from the large windows. They reach upwards towards the grow lights, perhaps because that bright light is more intense than the light from outside. It is the presence of life in an environment where typically it would not be possible.
A Different Earth Mother
I experienced a different kind of Earth Mother. In this instance, it is human and nature working together to make an oasis in this urban environment. Through the combination of the two, a place to honour the Earth Mother emerges. It is not the classic temple: there is no open sky over head, nor are there trees nearby. It is not a forest, nor a glen, nor valley. Here technology and green combine into a new matrix. I call this the Urban Earth Mother.
O Earth Mother!
The Urban Earth Mother lives in a different environment. While this indoor place lacks the usual aesthetic that one gets with an outdoor vista, I can feel Her here. I felt serene in the presence of the hanging plants, reaching upwards to the light. I leaned upon the rail and sang the Earth Mother song:
O Earth Mother
We praise thee:
For the seed that springeth,
For the flower that openeth,
For the grass that waveth;
We praise thee:
For the wind that whispereth,
Through the graceful elm,
Through the shapely maple,
Through the lively pine,
Through the shining birch,
Through the mighty oak;
We praise thee:
For all things,
O Earth Mother,
Who giveth life!
I closed my eyes, and I felt her around me, serene in the silence of this urban temple.
I am saddened to announce the passing of long-time member Robin (Beket) Arnhold. Beket, from Eau Claire, Wisconsin,. Beket was a life member of ADF, who joined ADF in early 1989. She was an important figure in the neo-pagan community and Circle Sanctuary described her as “a Pagan Elder, writer, editor, networker, merchant, astrologer, and Weather Witch”. She was closely aligned to the God Lugh and the Goddess Brighid.
She is memorialized in posts from Circle Sanctuary https://www.circlesanctuary.org/index.php/in-memoriam/in-memoriam-robin-beket-arnhold-d-2019, The Wild Hunt https://wildhunt.org/2019/02/pagan-community-news-more-concerns-over-stonehenge-hindu-temple-vandalized-and-more.html#beket, and the Pederson-Volker Funeral Chapel https://www.pedersonvolker.com/notices/Robin-Arnhold.
We wish her blessings on her journey.