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Mindful Monday: Pre-Mother’s Night

Image created by Connla Freyjason using digital elements and papers from January Gathering: A Winter’s Tale, available in our store by clicking this image (opens in new tab), as well as our upcoming Imramma. Digital painting of the Disir by Fenrir for Iaconagraphy. Poetry original, by Connla Freyjason.

That’s right: Pre-Mother’s Night!  That’s how I choose to view the American holiday of Thanksgiving, that oft-maligned feast of ultimate political incorrectness (Pilgrims and Indians, really?) that is, for most, an excuse to pig out on copious amounts of turkey and fall asleep watching football.  It is also the ultimate Kitchen Witch’s holiday, and this year, I am looking very forward to actually being in the kitchen with my favorite Kitchen Witch: my Beloved, Suzanne.

“The Kitchen Witch of it all” is in large part why I see Thanksgiving as a sort of Pre-Mother’s Night celebration.  For those unfamiliar with the Norse-derived observance of Mother’s Night, it traditionally falls on the eve before the Winter Solstice, and is more or less the “kick-off” of the Yule season (which either runs for the 12 days following December 21st, or from December 21-January 12, depending on your source material).  It is a night to toast Frigga, Frau Holda, and Freyja, and also to honor the Disir, including those female ancestors who have paved the way for us.  In other words, it is a night to thank those women (Goddesses, as well as goddesses-in-their-own-right) who were bastions of the Hearth and Home: we’re talking about more than the “glorified housewife” here, folks; we’re talking about recognizing women as the heart and soul and guardians of what it means to be us, as human beings.  Since falling in love with Suzanne a few years ago, she has taught me that the heart of Kitchen Witchery is one very simple maxim: Food is love.  If you’ve ever been blessed with eating her food, you know, as I do, that you can literally taste the love in it. And that is why Thanksgiving has become, for us, Pre-Mother’s Night: it is a time for us to begin (a bit early) to show our gratitude to the Disir, for in our house, we understand that gratitude is one of the most vital outpourings of love that anyone can give.

Subliminally, in my heart and mind, I have always understood Thanksgiving as a part of Yuletide.  While everyone else is sitting around complaining that there are already Christmas decorations available at Wal-Mart in the heart of October, I am secretly rubbing my hands together in anticipation of the Yuletide cheer I can spread throughout our humble home.  That has always been a part of me: long before I ever dreamed of becoming a chronic crafter, I was a chronic “Christmas nut”.  Even as a child, I would get very upset if my Mother didn’t put up the tree before Thanksgiving, and many was the time that I was scolded for asking out loud (in the home of someone who had not dutifully decorated pre-Thanksgiving) “why don’t they have their tree up yet, Mama?  Don’t they know it’s almost-Christmas?” Because to me, almost-Christmas was a holiday season unto itself: that quiet time before the holiday rush when people could actually contemplate and enjoy the Yuletide season.

My first year in Massachusetts, when November rolled around, I immediately began plotting almost-Christmas: “Look, Honey, we can put the tree up there, and I can do a glorious run of garland down that banister over there, and we can do another garland over the sink, maybe with peppermints? And we can cuddle on the couch and enjoy the warmth of all of it, and eat yummy things, and remind ourselves why we’re so thankful!” And she looked at me like I had lost my ever-loving mind!  “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet! We don’t decorate for Christmas until December.”  I was literally agape; I was horrified!  No almost-Christmas?  This cannot be! But there has been no almost-Christmas for four long years…..

Long before I was remotely Heidhrinn, I somehow understood that the period between Samhain (Alfablot) and the end of Yule was a season unto itself.  Samhain (Alfablot) marks the beginning of a season when the “veils are thin”:  it is understood as the beginning of the Dark Half of the Year in most Pagan circles in the northern hemisphere.  At Samhain (Alfablot) the Dead and other denizens of the Otherworld begin to more easily make their way into our mundane world.  That doesn’t end the moment you pack up your Halloween decorations; it is a phenomenon which continues through Yule, and even slightly after, until the dawn of February.  It is a time for contemplation and introspection, but also a time for gratitude, that most sincere expression of love.  And within that gratitude, we also find cause for joy: hence, Yule.

So pre-Mother’s Night may not officially be a “thing”, but it is at our house, and as we hurtle towards Thanksgiving on Thursday, here at our house, we will not only be preparing to pig out on turkey and fall asleep watching football.  We will also be lighting candles and incense on our altars, placing images of our beloved female Ancestors in a prominent place upon them, and pouring blot to Frigga and to Freyja and to the other Disir. And I will be preparing those first forays of decorating for what I once called almost-Christmas, but now understand as that solemn time of quiet gratitude and love that lays the foundation for the joy of Yule‘Tis the season!

 

 

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At Your Service: What Is Druid-Craft?

I’ve talked a lot lately about my life (and so have my “Graphics Elves”/”Spirit Guides”) as a Historical Reconstructionist Druid, but the truth is, when it comes to what we ultimately practice–and what we ultimately will be teaching you–that might more concisely be described as Druid-Craft.  Having a Welsh base, and practicing largely as a Dewin (a shamanic Druid practitioner of magick), my “particular brand of Druidry” is necessarily different from that practiced by other modern Historical Reconstructionists, such as those at ADF or OBOD.  The other major members of my mini-Grove (which is self-contained, pun-intended, since those “ranking officers of the Grove” come here and practice on this plane through me!) are a Bard and what we term in our Grove Rigfenneidh, which basically means “chief Fianna” (and, yes, that’s Irish, not Welsh; he is basically a Warrior-Bard-Dewin with fairly heavy Norse/Germanic/Teutonic leanings),  thus the entire tone of what we practice and what we teach tends to be not only Welsh Druidic, but also highly magick-based and magick-driven in its practice.

So what the heck is Druid-Craft, and is there any historical basis for such a critter?

As the Professor noted in the last blog entry, being a Welsh Historical Reconstructionist Druid is hard!  Unlike those with an Irish base, very little of our historical data is just “handed” to us: we have to do the digging ourselves.  This is largely due to the heavy-handedness of the Romantic Druids of the 18th century, who have caused most of the written materials we have, such as the Barddas, Mabinogion, and Hanes Taliesin, to be heavily called into question, insofar as any “historical Celticness” whatsoever.  So we have to become armchair archaeologists/anthropologists in order to find anything remotely resembling a truly “ancient” root to what we practice and believe.

We’ve done a lot of that over the past twenty years–“digging” into the ancient history of Wales, as armchair archaeologists/anthropologists–and in the process we’ve discovered some pretty interesting things about our ancient Welsh Ancestors-in-the-faith.  Firstly, most of the “Celtic overtones” of Welsh Mythology come to us circa 350BC from a group of migrating Irish Celts who settled in what is now Gwynedd, Wales.  These were the folk who eventually established Anglesey, the center of Druidry in the British Isles.  The other Celts in Wales–the Silures, Ordovices, and Demetae–were most likely migrants from the Halstatt Culture (so-named after their original homeland, in Austria).  These were what the Romans would’ve termed “Germanic Tribes”, which means exactly what it sounds like it implies: they shared a common cultural bond to the Norse/Germanic/Teutonic pantheon of deities.  Therefore, the ancient historical sources for Welsh Druidry become a combination of the Irish Celtic and the Norse/Germanic/Teutonic.

Most of the magickal practices we know about the ancient druids practicing come down to us either through the writings of their Roman contemporaries (such as Tacitus), or from evidence collected at archaeological sites, such as Penbryn and Cerrig-y-Drudion.  From these combined sources, we know that the Druids did, in fact, measure time (days, nights, weeks, months, etc.) by the phases of the moon (much like modern Pagans), reckoning “periods of time not in days but in nights; in celebrating birthdays, the first of the month, and the beginning of a year, they go on the principle that night comes first and is followed by day” (Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallico, 58-52 BC).  A series of small ceremonial swords discovered in continental Europe and bearing lunar imagery on their hilts, when combined with the contemporary histories of Caesar and others, suggest that these blades may have been used in druid rituals which not only marked time, but may also have involved divination (wherein they used the blade and its symbols to somehow determine “lucky” or “unlucky” days).  Symbols similar to those found on these swords have been found on a series of spoons uncovered throughout Britain, but most notably at Penbryn, Wales.  These spoons are always found in pairs (when discovered amongst grave goods), and are marked with a four-fold division (a cross), and various differing inlays (which are suggested to represent moon phases).  Since one spoon has a hole in it, it has been suggested by archaeologists/anthropologists that these spoons were used in a form of divination, wherein water was poured through the hole, onto the other spoon which bears the cross (four-fold division). Which quadrant the water landed in would then designate the most auspicious quarter of the lunar month in which to do….whatever. When combined with descriptions of the tarbh feis among the Celts of Ireland (some of whom settled in Wales, remember), it becomes pretty obvious that divination, in one form or another, was very important to the Celts.

While I don’t use fancy swords or spoons (or regularly slaughter cattle and eat stew, as in the tarbh feis), my daily ritual observances do rely quite heavily on divination (as can be seen from the fact that I’m also a Professional Tarot Counselor), and our High Day Rites include a section of ritual wherein we use modern means of divination (such as Tarot) to receive “feedback” from Deity.  These ancient Welsh spoons and the Irish observance of the tarbh feis also lend themselves to the practice of kitchen witchery, which is very much part of the practice of the Dewin (shamanic druid practitioner of magick).

From other archaeological sites (such as that at Hounslow, Middlesex) we know that totem animals were also profoundly important to the ancient Celts. This is further echoed in the extant myths which remain, both from the Irish source material, and from later Welsh translations, in such stories as that of Math ap Mathonwy, Gwydion, and Gilfaethwy, as well as that of Cerridwen and Gwionn Bach, and in many stories from the Irish Fenian Cycle.  Small effigies of animals have been found among grave goods at many sites, most often depicting images of pigs/boars, dogs, deer, and horses.  These specific animals also figure prominently in extant mythology (even that which has been called into historical question, such as the Mabinogion), as again in the tale of Math ap Mathonwy, that of Cerridwen and Gwionn Bach, and, again, also in the Fenian Cycle of Ireland.  Because of this, totem animals, and our relationships to and with them, also figure prominently in my practice of Druid-Craft.

Sacrifice is also an important part of my practice and belief system, as it was for the ancient Celts, based on both contemporary accounts and archaeological evidence. Sites of “ritual deposition”–the depositing of “perfectly good treasures” into lakes, rivers, and peat bogs, as a “gift for the gods”–have been found throughout Britain and continental Europe, and the contemporary accounts of the Romans (if they are to be believed) even speak of human and animal sacrifices (there is also archaeological evidence for both).  The sacrifice of a modern Druid, however, doesn’t involve blood; it involves soul, instead. It is a far more internal thing, and, therefore, is often even more symbolic and esoteric.

The divinatory, shamanic, and sacrificial practices of the ancient Celts are almost perfectly mirrored among the Norse/Germanic/Teutonic peoples (which makes sense, given the historical term “Germanic Tribes” coined by Caesar, and also given the “birthplace of modern Celtic Culture”: Halstatt).  We see this shamanic element expressed especially in the description of the tarbh feis in Ireland, but we also see it mirrored in the mention of seidh in Norse/Germanic/Teutonic source materials (such as the Eddas and Sagas), once again providing something like a “magickal bridge” between the two cultures.  My own practice of “shamanic mediumship” has kinship to things practiced historically within both cultures (if we are to consider them disparate cultures at all, in fact, when it all comes down to brass tacks, as we say in the South).

At its most basic, then, Druid-Craft might be described as a profoundly shamanic path which focuses heavily on divination, magick (particularly herbal magick, magick involving divination, and kitchen witchery), and places a great emphasis spiritually on the concept and practice of sacrifice.  It isn’t a “go to Church on Sunday” sort of religion; by that, I mean it isn’t something one does only on designated days or in designated places or at designated times, but is, instead, something that permeates every waking moment of my life.  That can make it incredibly difficult to teach as a practice: I mean, how does one teach something that has become so natural to your life that you barely even realize anymore when you are doing it and when you are not?  To put it in incredibly mundane terms, it’s like trying to remember one’s own phone number.  You all know how hard that is to do, right? I mean, how often do you call yourself?  When something is so much a part of the natural fiber of your being that it comes as naturally as breathing, it becomes a bit difficult to find the starting point of that “breath” so that you can teach it to someone else. But I intend to try!

If this article has piqued your interest in possibly learning Druid-Craft, I would beg a precious moment of your time, and ask you to please fill out this short survey for me.  Don’t forget to also join my mailing list, as I teach quite a lot for free in my weekly newsletters (and there is also a free e-book on beginning magick available for download at sign-up). I am very excited to finally be able to share this decades-long journey (and all of the research that went into it!) with others and can’t wait to go on this journey with you, together!