Re-Awakening

Since I began a formal study of Druidry and immersing myself even deeper into the Celtic mysteries, a number of changes have taken place, both inwardly and outwardly. Priorities have shifted, and my magical worldview has been greatly enhanced. Even my practice has experienced some transformations. All connections to any Gardnerian or Golden Dawn influences that my practice once had have been stripped away. Through the inspired wisdom I have found through Druidry, my magical practice has become much more earthy, more simplified. The energy feels more natural and ancient. It is old magic that pre-dates Gerald Gardner and the Golden Dawn. It is the magic of ancient Celtic gods and goddesses, a return to the magic of Land, Sea and Sky that relies on intuition and instinct and does not require traditional trappings and tools.

The cauldron and wand are now my primary tools. It has been many months since I have used an athame or a chalice. They have become arbitrary and will be passed on to others, along with other items that are no longer relevant to my practice as it has evolved. It is certainly acceptable to use an athame/chalice if one wishes to combine Wicca and Druidry, however, I had always thought of myself as more Witch than Wiccan. Cerridwen is represented on my altar, not in a statue or a chalice, but as three white taper candles that stand behind the cauldron in the center. The three candles represent the three rays of Awen, and acknowledge Cerridwen as Witch, Goddess and Mother. Now that I am learning the druid path as taught by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, in addition to the teachings of Kristoffer Hughes, I am re-discovering myself…I am changing. It is a new way of magical living and thinking, re-connecting to the mystical old ways of Celtic paganism. It is a re-awakening. Many things are going to change, and you will see some of those changes reflected on this website.

I have also decided to be more selective about what I post on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. It is time to refrain from such trivialities as photos of what I had for dinner and “Which ‘Frozen’ Character Are You”. Such a waste of time and energy, when I could be sharing things that uplift, enlighten, educate or inspire. Social media is a good tool to help bring awareness to important issues, or stay in touch with friends and loved ones who we may not be in contact with otherwise. Let us use social media to bring light and life to the world rather than focusing on all the darkness and hate. Yes, there are bad things and evil people in the world, and we should be aware of them, but if that is all we put our attention on, is it really helping anything? I think not. Hate only breeds more hate. There are good people in the world as well, doing good for others, let us recognize them too. It seems people tend to focus more on the negativity in the world and ignore the goodness and light around them.

Druidry and Witchcraft overlap in many ways, so what does one call oneself? A druid? A celtic witch? A celtic pagan? I think I could answer to all of these. My formal studies in Druidry and Celtic Magic have only begun a short time ago and I have already learned so much. I love the mysticism, the simplicity, the sense that I have tapped into an ancient current. “Celtic magic changes the magician”, Kristoffer Hughes writes, and I can truly feel it happening. I do not feel like the same person I was only three months ago. I am being transformed, drawn ever closer to the mists of Celtica.

Is é draíochta an creatlach na cruinne. Is sa talamh, an fharraige agus an spéir. Tá sé ar fad thart timpeall orainn agus laistigh dúinn. Dúisigh an draíocht laistigh.

Magic is the fabric of the universe. It is in the earth, the sea and the sky. It is all around us and within us. Awaken the magic within.

Titles, Names and Labels

In many initiatory traditions, magical people are granted new names such as High Priest, High Priestess, Lord/Lady and other similar names. This is nothing new, it is a practice that is centuries old. I see nothing inherently wrong with titles, and it baffles me when people get up-in-arms about them. Perhaps it is because titles imply responsibility and expectations, and people do not want that placed upon them. Even the word “leader” makes some uncomfortable. “Why do we need a leader?”, they ask. They want the luxury of making decisions for the group, with no responsibility attached.

Sometimes leaders have to make difficult choices, such as when members of the group or community engage in harmful behavior. If someone is being deliberately hurtful or malicious toward other members, with no remorse whatosover, they have to go. There really are no two ways about it, and no amount of “discussion” or trying to “work things out” will remedy the situation.

Just because someone is called High Priest or High Priestess, or Lord/Lady So-and-So, it does not necessarily mean they have an ego problem or some neurotic need to be in control. Those who make these sort of complaints typically have issues with authority of any kind and do not like the idea of someone being “in charge”. They usually do not stay around long. Groups are not for everyone. Many find they are much more suited to a solitary practice, with no leaders “telling me what to do”. (See my article Coven Vs. Solitary). The truth is, there has to be someone, or more than one, who is designated to maintain structure and order, and assure that things are done the way they’re supposed to be, or at least in the way that was planned or agreed upon by the group. Groups without leaders will not last long. Likewise, groups who do things in an unorganized, willy-nilly ‘whatever’ sort of way will soon fall apart, or devolve into something no more than what my friend jokingly calls “coffee night”.

There are many who truly want leadership. They want someone they can look to for guidance and advice, leaders who are dedicated to their role and fulfill it to the best of their ability. Not everyone wants to be a leader or have a title, but those who do need to own it and not treat it casually. Lord and Lady have an air of royalty about them, and I happen to like the idea of witches as royalty. Laurie Cabot teaches that all witches are sovereign, that their wisdom and knowledge of the Craft gives them sovereignty.

Here in America, people are not used to being called such things as High Priest, High Priestess, Lord/Lady such-and-such, but in Europe these titles are commonplace and people do not get bent out of shape over them. Let us remind ourselves that many of our traditions and practices come from Europe, and titles happen to be one of them. There are some who do not want to be “called” anything. “I don’t want to be labeled”, they passively say. Perhaps they do not want the responsibility that comes with a label. Saying you’re one thing means you’re not something else, and many want the freedom to be that ‘something else’ as their whims dictate. (See my article Defining Your Path). Titles and labels are often necessary because they help bring clarity and definition to relationships both mundane and magical, particularly in group settings.

For others, the aversion to titles and names is not due to avoidance issues but the fact that they embrace so many different beliefs it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what path they are on. Eclecticism seems to work for some people…or does it…but I find it unfocused, scattered, chaotic. I do not believe that “all paths are one path” or that “all roads lead to center”. They do not. I do not have to respect paths that advocate beheading people, abusing women or committing acts of terrorism. Nor do I have to embrace paths that teach the concept that those who do not follow them are doomed to Hell. All paths are not one path. Sorry, no.

There are also those who do not like the words “Witch”, “Wiccan” or “Pagan” because again, these are ‘labels’. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with self-identifying as a Witch, Wizard, Wiccan, Pagan, Druid or any other magical name if that is how you live your life. If that is what you are, you have every right to refer to yourself as such. Ignore the naysayers. Some criticize what they call “rigid definitions” of words like “Pagan”. We have these words so people understand what they are and what they are not. They can’t mean whatever you want them to mean.

If you have a title, then embrace it, own it and use it proudly!

Magical Holidays: Imbolc

bannerfans_14800182The ancient Celtic fire festival of Imbolc takes place on February 1st or 2nd, and is regarded as the first of three Spring festivals. Although it is not yet officially Spring until March, Imbolc reminds us that Spring is definitely on the way. Imbolc (pronounced Im-Molk or Im-Molg: the ‘b’ is silent) is an Old Irish word that has been translated to mean “in the belly” and refers to the pregnancy of ewes. It is a fertility festival and a time of encouraging new growth to begin. This holiday is sacred to the Celtic Goddess Brighid, also called Brid or Bride. She is a Goddess of healing, poetry, fertility and smithcraft.

Brighid is a triple goddess of fire, water and light, a daughter of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha de Danaan. Celebrations of Imbolc stretch back through the centuries, and often involved the lighting of candles, along with the presence of water and fire. Some magical traditions call Imbolc the “womb of Spring”, as we begin to see the first stirrings of life, displayed by snowdrop flowers growing upwards through the snow, a sign that the end of Winter is not far off. In Witchcraft/Wiccan traditions, Imbolc is the time when the Goddess slumbers below the earth after giving birth to the God, and as his light grows she begins to awaken. Candles are lit to gently awaken the Goddess and encourage her return to the earth, which she does at Spring. Imbolc is a time to begin planning new things, making plans for hopes and dreams.

Goddess_Brigid_Cross_origIn Celtic traditions, a corn dolly and a bowl of milk is placed on the altar, along with several candles in a bowl of water. Poems and stories of Brighid are read aloud, and songs are sung in her honour. It is a time to do magic for healing and creativity. A special bed would be made for the doll, and a ceremony of inviting Brighid into the house would be enacted. In Ireland, Brighid’s Crosses (see photo at right) were made at Imbolc. They were often hung over doors, windows and stables to welcome Brigid and protect the buildings from fire and lightning. The crosses were generally left there until the next Imbolc.

The date of Imbolc is thought to have been significant in Ireland since the Neolithic period. The holiday was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted. Fire and purification were an important part of the festival. The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months.

The Goddess Brighid has quite a history. As Christianity spread through Europe, many sacred sites were destroyed or built over with churches. Celtic deities were replaced with saints. Worship of the Goddess Brighid was so widespread and ingrained in the Celtic lands that the Christians were not able to suppress it, so they made Brighid into a Saint. Although she was Christianized as St. Brighid, with holy wells dedicated to her, historians believe her to be of pagan origin, a Goddess of pre-Christian times.

To celebrate Imbolc, use a white altar cloth. Decorate your altar with snowdrop flowers, a bowl of water and several lit candles. Sprinkle pine needles, sage and holly leaves on the altar. Recite a poem to Brighid, or sing to her, and ask for her assistance in healing or creative projects.

As I look out my window here in the city, I do not yet see green growth sprouting thru the snow. It is only the beginning of February, and there is more snow on the way. Our private group has an Imbolc celebration planned for this evening, but it is threatened by a possible 6-10 inches of snow. I may end up having a private ceremony at home. However, as much as I loathe snow, I make myself walk through it, enduring the wind chill cold and paying close attention to the sights, sounds and sensations. I still see squirrels running about, a few birds in the trees, and I see the tiniest of buds beginning to form at the end of branches…winter is not yet over, but I see small signs that Spring will soon be here.

The Void-of-Course Moon: A Time to Pause

This astrological factor of the Moon is often ignored by magical practitioners, either because they do not understand what it means or they believe it is not significant enough to really make a difference. However, the Moon when it is Void-of-Course (usually shown in an ephemeris or moon phase guide as v/c) can have an effect, or non-effect, on magical workings and other decisions we make.

When the Moon is Void-of-Course, this indicates that it is between zodiacal signs: it has just exited one sign and is on it’s way to the next. The Moon does not always automatically move from one zodiac sign to the next. Many times it does, but there is often a between-time when the Moon does not occupy either sign. This time period can last anywhere from a matter of minutes, hours, or up to nearly two days.

When preparing to cast a spell or plan life events, and you are working with planetary/astrological energies, it is best not to do anything definate when the Moon is Void-of-Course. Doing so may mean that your spell will not manifest the way you intended, if at all. The planetary/astrological energies you are calling on are simply not there. This is because the planets have an effect on the zodiac signs, and if the Moon is between signs, the energies are scattered. There is the tendency to have unrealistic expectations associated with the decisions, and/or there could be difficulties from unknown factors. During this period actions can produce unexpected results, creative efforts can go into unexpected directions. Wait until the Moon has fully occupied the sign you wish to work with.

The void-of-course period of the Moon is the period of time from the moment the Moon makes the last contact with any planet in the current Sign of the Zodiac, and until it enters the next sign.

This excerpt from the website Lunarium explains it metaphorically:

Each sign is like a chapter in the book of life, and moving through it the Moon is telling a story. When the Moon enters the next sign, it starts a new story. We still remember the old one, but we are not deeply involved into it anymore. Whether we notice it or not, each time the Moon enters the next Sign of the Zodiac, something substantially changes in our life, some context, or the emotional background of events. Most of the time we aren’t aware of this change because the Moon is strongly connected to our subconsciousness, not to our consciousness. It is the subconsciousness who is deeply aware of the change.

So in each of the signs the Moon starts a new story when it enters the sign, but those stories can have different lengths. Some of them continue for almost the whole two-and-a-half-day period, others are much shorter, but always there is a pause in the end of the story. It can be short or long, but it is always there. That pause in the end of the story is the void-of-course period of the Moon.

We don’t know why it happens, this pause. Maybe the story teller gives us the time to think about the content of the story we’ve just heard, or maybe it is a chance to prepare to the next story, because it is going to be very important. We just know that the pause is there…At some point the Moon makes its last contact in the given sign. That’s the end of the story, but the new story won’t start until the Moon enters the next Sign of the Zodiac”.

You can find the Void-of-Course by looking at an ephemeris, moon phase guide or astrology website. Some of you tech-savvy types may have an app on your phone. I happen to like the Llewellyn Moon Sign Book. It is very practical, easy to read, and they publish a new one every year. The Void-of-Course is marked as (v/c) or (VoC). I had some difficulty locating a picture of their chart to show you, however, below is a similar chart displaying the Void-of-Course dates for January 2015.

Calendar1501

The Art of Tree Gazing

One of my favorite things to do in the Winter is Tree Gazing. This is the art of divining messages from the trees as their branches sway in the wind, and relies heavily on your intuitive abilities. I do believe that each tree possesses a spirit, and that the spirit of the tree will communicate with anyone who sincerely desires to interact with it. In Winter, this is best done on a cold, windy day, so dress warmly. Take a notebook and pen along if you want to write down your impressions. (Tree Gazing in the Summer is a bit different as the focus is on the leaves. In Winter, the focus is on the branches).

To begin Tree Gazing during the Winter, find a tree that has lost all of it’s leaves. It should be a tree that you feel a strong connection to. Let it call to you. The branches must be completely bare, so do not choose a tree with green growth on it, such as Pine or Evergreen. If you can, place your bare hands on the tree for a few moments, close your eyes, take some deep breaths until you reach a meditative state, and project an intention into the tree for communication. Ask the tree to share it’s wisdom with you. Then, remove your hands and find a spot where you can sit comfortably for at least 30 minutes. If you cannot touch the tree or feel uncomfortable doing so, just project your intention to communicate into the tree. It is best to choose a tree that you can get relatively close to, even if you cannot touch it. You should be able to clearly see the branches and how the entire tree responds to the wind. If the tree is too far away, it will be more difficult to “read”. At a local park that I visit, there are trees quite close to the parking lot, so in the Winter I can sit in my car with the window down when I practice tree gazing. When you have found the tree you wish to communicate with and you are seated comfortably nearby, bring yourself into a meditative state. You can do this by taking several deep breaths, with eyes closed, and visualizing the numbers 1 thru 10. Feel yourself drifting into a deeper state of consciousness. Then, open your eyes and gaze at the branches of the tree. Do not forcibly stare, but allow your gaze to soften. Observe the branches as they move in the wind. Open your mind and heart to feelings, impressions, images. Spend most of your winter tree gazing experience observing the branches, but also glance at the rest of the tree from time to time. Does the tree bend in the wind? Are there animals, plants, flowers or other growth on or near the tree? What is their magickal significance? How do they react to the wind? Wind belongs to the element of Air which rules communication, thought and transference of information. It seems to be an important component of Tree Gazing during any season. Write down all of your impressions in your notebook. In my own experience, I have found that is best to remain passive while Tree Gazing, rather than asking questions and seeking specific answers. The information I receive from Tree Gazing seems to be more about spiritual guidance and personal growth rather than “should I apply for this job” sort of thing. Don’t seek specific answers from the tree, just allow it to impart information into your consciousness. You may experience some strong emotions. Just relax and allow it to happen. If you do not receive information the first time you try Tree Gazing, don’t worry. It may take some practice, but eventually you will begin to intuitively sense the tree’s messages for you. Be sure to keep a notepad and pen handy to write down your impressions.

trees

People of the Oak

As we walk the magick path, there are times when we realize some things no longer work for us, or we find ways to enhance our path and make it even more personal. This has happened to me recently, when I began a formal study of Druidry. I resisted the druid path for so long, and even wrote in one of my books that I could not be a druid, however, the voice of the Oak kept calling and calling until finally I gave in. It’s sort of like one of those moments when your deities and spirit guides are leading you down an unfamiliar path and as much as you try to resist, you just cannot. There were a few things I felt uncomfortable about with Druidry, such as the white robes and the differences between Druidry and Witchcraft. To be completely honest, and it may sound silly, the white robes reminded me of the KKK (a white-supremacist group) and I do not want to be associated with that at all. Here in America, I think that is what people think of when they see a group of men in white robes. The truth is, according to ancient writings, the druids were the first group to don white robes, centuries before any other group (racist or not) began wearing them. Other than the Pope and his folk. Modern druids are not required to wear white robes, though many do. Perhaps it is only the priests who wear them? I’m not certain, I have only just begun my studies. Anyway, White is not my favorite color. I prefer black, and will continue to wear black robes as I am studying Druidry simply to complement my path as a Witch. I am a Witch, always and forever. I am merely blending the two together. The differences between the two are minor, and many people are unaware that the founder of modern druidry, Ross Nichols, happened to be great friends with Gerald Gardner, the “father of modern Wicca”. The two studied together and both formed their own spiritual paths which evolved to where they are today. Salem witch Laurie Cabot refers to Druidry as just another branch, or tradition, of Witchcraft. The two paths, though different, have much in common. Witches and Druids believe many of the same things, such as the reverence for Nature and the Ancestors, the powers of crystals, stones, the Sun and the Moon, animal and tree lore, the Goddess, the embracing of sexuality and wisdom and many other concepts. Druidry acknowledges the Awen (poetic inspiration) as illustrated by this symbol below. The three dots at the top are the three sacred drops from Cerridwen’s brew, and the three rays represent Love, Wisdom and Truth, the Triple aspect of Deity, and the points at which the Sun rises on equinoxes and solstices.

220px-Awen_symbol_final.svg

I received my first packet of studies from the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids the very next day after the Winter Solstice. It was meant to be a holiday surprise from my partner, (I had mentioned to him that I wanted to join the Order), but the envelope was addressed to me instead of him and did not have a return address. I had no idea who it was from, but I did notice the Airmail postage. I have several friends who live in the UK and I assumed it was from one of them. My partner was none too pleased when I told him I had opened his gift to me a few days earlier than planned. I really had no idea what it was until I opened it. Still, for me, it came at the perfect time. I had just led my last ritual as High Priest with Evening Star Circle, an eclectic pagan group with whom my 2-year commitment ended at Yule. My study materials from OBOD arrived in the mail the day after Yule. To me, it signified the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

Studying with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids can be expensive, but they do have a number of payment plans and will make arrangements with people in financial hardship. They send out study materials each month, and they are designed to build one upon another. I receive both the printed and audio materials, and there is plenty to keep you busy until the next materials arrive. They say that each packet contains a week’s worth of study, but if you really want to absorb everything I think it is good to study it for the whole month. There are three grades of study: Bard, Ovate and Druid. Everyone begins with the Bardic Grade. Each grade takes about a year to complete, but you can study at your own pace and take longer if you need to. There is reading material, along with CD’s that contain stories, music and spoken text from the pamplets, along with information about Ecological responsibility, tree planting, and the official members-only OBOD magazine Touchstone. There is also practical work to complete, which include meditations and other assignments. I received a Book of Rituals, and some specific information about the druid celebrations of Alban Arthan (Welsh for Winter Solstice) and Imbolc. I love all of this, I cannot express how much. It feels a bit like coming home.

Two of the differences between Druidry and Witchcraft are that 1) Druidry does not place much emphasis on moon phases and such, but tends to focus more on the Sun. 2) Druids do cast a circle but not quite the same way as in traditional Witchcraft.

The blend of Druidry and Witchcraft is referred to as Druidcraft, and Philip-Carr Gomm has written a wonderful book about it. I will continue to call what I do Witchcraft, although it is heavily influenced by Druidry, and I will continue to cast the circle in my usual manner, albeit with Celtic influences. Druidry is not dogmatic, you do not have to follow everything to the letter. You can incorporate those elements and ideas that work best for you.

The word “druid” means “Oak Wise” and comes from the same word meaning “Door” or “Doorway”. From these definitions we can say that Druidry is a “doorway to wisdom” for the “people of the Oak”. The Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex, England is a perfect illustration of this, as he appears to be standing in a doorway, and druid ceremonies are regularly held there.

tumblr_static_tumblr_static__1280My birthdate on the Celtic Tree Calendar places me in the Oak category, and I have always had a strong connection to the Oak tree. I am glad to be called a Witch, a Mystic and one of the People of the Oak.

The Dark Yule Moon 2014

C_UserstinsleyrPicturesbannerfans_14361656As we approach the Winter Solstice on December 21st 2014, something extraordinary will happen. At 8:36pm EST, the Moon will enter it’s Dark Moon phase, which some call the New Moon. This is a highly significant event, as not only is tonight the longest, darkest night of the year, it also takes place during a Dark Moon. At this time, the dark portion of the Moon faces almost directly toward Earth, so that the Moon is not visible to the naked eye. During this phase, the side of the Moon that is facing us is not lit by the Sun. This is the time when we look inward to examine our lives, our dreams, hopes and fears.

This moon enters the sign of Capricorn as it reaches the fulness of darkness. The energy of this dark moon guides us to draw upon our inner wisdom, and examine the lessons we have learned from past experiences, and take an active role in changing the course of our futures. It is time to take those first steps toward achieving our goals, and forging the path we wish our lives to take. In recent weeks there seems to have been much friction in our day-to-day lives. I have noticed people more stressed out than usual, perhaps due to the holidays and all it’s pressures, but there has been much conflict, irritability, impatience and an overall sense of tension and frustration. I have felt it myself. I have been somewhat impatient and short-tempered as of late. So much to do and not enough time, money or resources to do it with! With the Sun in Sagittarius, it may feel like we are running into one obstacle after another. And indeed, with this dark moon there will be ostacles in our paths. We are being encouraged to evolve and grow, putting away those things that no longer serve our highest good. It may mean removing toxic people from your life, it may mean re-evaluating the direction you want your life to go.

Write down all the things you want to achieve, and the steps you are going to take to make them happen. To make the most of this Dark Yule Capricorn Moon and Sagittarius Sun, make the decision that you will be pro-active, assertive and determined to lead the life you want to live. This Dark Moon heralds changes and new beginnings.

In my own life, I am already seeing spiritual changes take place. The coven I have served as High Priest for the last two years will have it’s final ritual this evening, and then we will disband, as new leadership takes the reins to guide our eclectic pagan community into new territory. I will spend more time focusing on Celtic/Druidcraft studies(which I have already begun and loving every minute of it), and will be less involved in formal public ritual planning. I recently decided that I will no longer actively plan public classes or events, and will only teach when I am invited to do so. I will be more reclusive than I have in the past, so I can spend more time with my studies and personal rituals. I will continue to write, of course, on this website and with my book projects.

I am delighted to hear the owls once again in the trees behind our home. There are two of them, and they call to each other throughout the night. During the day, the trees are filled with crows, hundreds of them actually, and they are quite loud, but as night draws near the crows leave and the owls arrive. I always know Winter is near when I hear them, because I don’t hear them at other times of the year.

Tonight is Yule, and I am anxious to open the Yule gift I received from friends in Salem, Massachussets, so I shall now carefully open the box…I am excited to see what it is…I purposely waited until the last minute…

Blessed Yule and Happy Winter Solstice.

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