Imbolc

Tomorrow, or maybe the day after, or sometime in the next week to ten days, depending on how you follow these sorts of things, is Imbolc, cross quarter Sabbat of Celtic origin and propagated via Wicca and various witchcraft traditions.

I have tended not to observe this holiday very much. I resonate a lot with all things Celtic, but I admit I’ve been intimidated by the heavy academic bent to much of Celtic Reconstruction practice. Now, I’d like to expand my practice and start incorporating something festive into this dreary part of the year.

Bridget – either Saint Bridget from the Irish Christian tradition and/or Brid from the earlier pre-Christian Irish tradition – is the patron saint of this holiday. The historical person of Bridget dates to the 5th century. She established a convent at Kildare, supposedly on the site of an ancient holy well, and the nuns there kept guard of a flame that was never allowed to go out. Brid, as goddess, is the patron saint of three of the major aspects of witchcraft (in my opinion): poets and communication between this world and the Otherworld; forge and smith, those that make weapons and tools, and warriors; and healers, herbalists, and midwives (birth is a liminal space of its own). All of these involve fire, which is Brid’s sacred element.

Fire brings transformation, illumination, and heat. It refines and inspires. Metaphorically, we can ask Brid to light a fire under us! With this element we can cook, warm ourselves and our family at our hearth, forge the tools we need, light our way, and the fire of our spirit is what creates art.

I don’t have a relationship with Brid. It’s strange to me that she is a central figure of this holiday and then is generally forgotten about for the rest of the year. (I’m guessing Celtic Recons have more of a working relationship with her.)

On Saturday I’m heading to Seattle to observe the Sabbat with my teachers and fellow Feri students. We’ll call to Nimuë, another figure I don’t have much experience with or knowledge of! This time of year we look toward the light, and heavens know I need more light in my life! despite being a pretty happy, cheery, silly person, I take myself way too seriously. I love my ‘dark’ goddesses and gods. But there is light in everything. Light and dark exist side by side. Even Kali – she of terror, fierceness and bloody tongue, is a loving, tender mother to those who honor her. Nimuë, the youthful, child-like goddess, is unpredictable and feral!

Tonight I’ll leave out some oats and water for the Land spirits. On Saturday, I plan to prepare for the ritual with a cleansing bath and kala (cleaning off of outside and inside) and meditating on my words, my art, my weapons (which are often my words), my home and my healing. How can I be both the agent of these things and the recipient of them? How can I hone my skills for myself and my work, and for the better of others too?

The bright fire of summer and the external energy that engenders is far off – many months away. The fire is kindled in the middle of winter, to offer us inspiration and to prepare us for what is to come. Nothing but hard work lies ahead. May Brid or Nimuë or whom ever you look to, light our way!

For more information, may I recommend Alexei Kondratiev’s excellent book The Apple Branch and Traci’s post over on Patheos, (Traci is living in Ireland and knows far more about this stuff than I do!). Check back on A Sense of Place tomorrow for my post, which also continues with the Imbolc theme!

Maxim Monday: Long for wisdom

This one is easy. Long for wisdom? I’ve been yearning for it my whole life. Actually, I yearned for knowledge, confusing the two. When I was 11 wisdom and knowledge seemed like the same things. I distinctly remember spending hours looking through a family friend’s college viewbooks (remember those? from before the internet?). By 12 I had decided that I wanted to go to Bowdoin college in Maine and eventually get a PhD so I could be the smartest girl in the world.

I still privilege knowledge. I crave knowledge. I love learning things. I love reading. I love learning about the world and people. Just writing about this and remembering how I felt at 12 rekindles that giddy excitement of all the unopened books awaiting to be read, of an atlas with paths waiting to be mapped out.

At this point in my life I feel content with my ability to learn. The single best skill I have is the ability to learn. Public school assisted me, but certainly didn’t teach me how to learn. Innate curiosity, fed with determination, is what powered this B+ student through 23 years of schooling.

I’m only really beginning to understand the difference between wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is facts. Wisdom is the application of knowledge and experience. Sometimes I notice that small children, with their lack of experience but wealth of ‘beginner’s mind,’ seem to express more wisdom than many adults.

I no longer want to hoard facts and knowledge. Knowledge assists but doesn’t help me connect. In fact, sometimes knowing a little bit about something can be more detrimental than knowing nothing of all. I remember attending a dinner party a decade ago hosted by an Iranian now living in America. I thought I would impress her by trotting out my knowledge of Iran (almost entirely gleaned from reading the Economist). She went off on me, accusing me of being ignorant and on the side of the oppressors. Even though she was not a good host, a wiser move would have been to ask about her experience first.

These days I long for wisdom. So far, I see that wisdom comes from participating, risking, asking, listening, observing, going deeper. Cold, rational facts only take us so far. The messy, emotional world of experience is far more important to me these days. What works? Why? How can I connect more deeply with others, myself, my surroundings? How can I use what I know? What is important to learn next?

Long for wisdom? I’ve got this maxim covered.

Midwinter

Midwinter is here. I feel it in my energy levels. I see it in the light. It’s been cold here: dry and close to freezing most days. Today it warmed up enough to rain. In the mornings we’re awake for the sunrises, but we don’t have to wait long. The days feel ever so slightly longer. The growing light is welcome.

The first part of winter always feels intense to me. It comes on the end of an autumn cull and the high holidays of Samhain. This year was no different. But the level of intensity of this winter has surprised me. I feel slightly at the end of my rope.

First, there was the deep and expansive work that my husband and I started. We took some huge risks, we dug deep, we started excavating old wounds. Second, I took a huge risk with my closest friend; it didn’t end well. Third, my son, typically emotionally intense anyway, is four and half years old and more intense than ever. I have been told this is normal for this age. Fourth, I just made a huge commitment to my tradition and spiritual journey by choosing dedication.

The first and second areas challenged me so deeply that I felt it was the opening and purging blade of Kali working open heart surgery upon me. I emerged with a blacker, bolder heart. Adam, my husband, and I have come out of this winter stronger and healthier than ever. The love between us is deeper and bolder, too. My friend and I are tentative, but healing. I do not know the future there, but it shines like a diamond.

Adam is convinced that our son is on the way out of whatever phase he’s been in. I’m taking his word for it, because I don’t see it. I’m just too tired. My patience is frayed. I don’t have the capacity to hold any more space for any more people. All of this deep winter work has expanded me – my heart, my energy levels, my capacity to hold conflict and tension and not knowing, my compassion, my understanding of people…… It’s beautiful, it’s deeply spiritual  – but I’m tired.

The light I see growing in the mornings and lingering in the evenings is a hopeful sign. I don’t know if I’ll get to rest – do parents ever get to do that? But fresh, new air is coming. A few of the bushes have the faintest of new growth on them. There is new life around the corner, brighter light, stronger light. I need this hope and this encouragement from the land around me.

Chehalis Western Trail; Regan House Photo

Chehalis Western Trail; Regan House Photo

I don’t know what the spring holds for me. But the light is growing.

Maxim Monday: Pursue honor

When I hear this word I think of knights and samurais: people who live by what seem to be (according to romantic and anachronistic novels) hard-and-fast codes of honor. I also think of ‘honor killings,’ where people murder others (usually women, sometimes themselves) in order to ‘save face.’ I can see nothing honorable about killing somebody else because you feel ashamed of their actions. That to me is not honor, or even remotely healthy boundaries.

And yet we have phrases like ‘honoring our word,’ which implies staying true to our promises. Defined, honor means dignity, esteem, respect. Those things are important – assuming I agree to standards by which actions are deemed honorable. Most of the time I think what counts as honorable is merely fancy dress, a show for others’ sake.

While I certainly want the respect and esteem of my closest friends, family and chosen kin, what’s most important to me is that I esteem myself and my actions. Isn’t this concept another word for integrity? I want to be someone trusted, who follows through on promises, for my actions and words to be in agreement.

How do I pursue that? I do it. Every time. Of course, I screw up, I make mistakes, but then I take responsibility, make amends when possible, and then try again. Eventually people will notice and public honor will recognized. But there is no way to pursue a more public honor without first pursuing a quieter, more personal one.

This topic is incredibly apt. Before my dedication rite on Saturday my group had a little lecture on ethics and morals. We discussed the difference (morals being societal guidelines of what is good/acceptable and what is bad/unacceptable, ethics being more of a personal code with which people can respond to situations; I have been told before by people with PhDs in this sort of topic that this line is fluid and that ethics and morals are the same: I disagree). Feri is considered amoral. It is not immoral. It does not deliberately embrace what most people think is bad; instead Feri steps outside that entire construct and demands that we choose for ourselves.

What I have found is that most of the Feri initiates I know have an incredibly strong sense of personal ethics. Honor is a part of that, and by honor I mean integrity, honesty, and respect for others. This attitude of personal ethics suits me incredibly well, as I have never liked rules and pretty much consider them guidelines for everyone else. However, I generally don’t disagree with most rules if I can see why they are in place and how they are useful. But if I can’t see that? I tend not to go along with them. I do not believe in moral absolutes; I firmly embrace situational ethics.

In order to strengthen my own ethics I must also hone my own honor. For me, the daily details of doing what I say I’ll do, following through on things I’ve said, and apologizing as necessary are part of that. A bigger piece is learning to listen more carefully (to things said and unsaid), to hold silence (both remaining quiet and keeping things secret as necessary), and to mind my own business (ie, not attempt to solve everyone’s problem, not always offering advice or my thoughts, to let other people go about their lives as they please).

I most certainly pursue honor, and I think this is a great maxim to meditate on.

Dedication

Tomorrow I am driving north to Seattle for a dedication. My dedication.

For the last year I’ve been driving 70 miles every third Saturday of the month to study with two amazing Feri/Faery initiates, NG and W. I haven’t written about it; it’s been something close to my heart and I wanted to keep it to myself. My teachers are private and don’t have much of an online presence. I only learned about their location and openness to teaching through word of mouth: one initiate introduced to me another initiate who mentioned NG and W and passed along their contact info. This seems to be my experience with mystery traditions.

A year and a half ago I wrote about being my own guru. At that time stepping into my own spiritual authority was a really important step for me. It was not something chosen to flout teachers or the wisdom and/or grace accumulated by others further down their paths than me; it was me accepting that I had to make choices and then act on those choices and learn from my own experience. I’ve had teachers in the past: some formal and several less formal. Some direct spiritual mentors, and some in an academic setting. I am grateful to all of them. But now I’m at a point where I am ready to walk more deeply with a teacher.

The ecstatic, mystery and more Left Hand Path traditions (both Feri/Faery witchcraft and Tantric Hinduism fall into these categories) all stress having a teacher. One has to learn and practice and experience on one’s own, but a guide is needed, indeed necessary, not only to avoid certain pitfalls, but also because much of the knowledge is not online, not written in books. Beyond oral knowledge there lies the Current that is passed at initiations.

What’s interesting to me is that many people don’t realize that even Christianity was once a mystery tradition. There is a part in the Orthodox liturgy where the catechumens are instructed to leave – only baptized Christians were supposed to witness, much less participate in,  the Eucharist, that mystery of bread and wine becoming flesh and blood.

Tomorrow I will stand before my teachers and …… I have no idea. I have no idea what the dedication consists of! I was told that I could wear ritual clothes (I have none, so I am wearing a black dress that I’ve only ever worn to sing in – a sort of ritual in itself) and that I could use a magical name or choose a name to use at this time (fodder for another post!). In Feri/Faery there is but one initiation, considered a marriage to the gods, where the Current is passed and lore is told. This is a formal dedication to my teachers and this path. No oath-bound material is passed, but more lore is given – a token of deepening trust. This is in a way a ‘going steady’ ritual. I let my teachers and other initiates know that I am serious and my teachers say, “Hey, I like what I see in you, let’s take this to the next level.”

I’m still interested in finding a Hindu guru. There is nothing in Feri/Faery or Tantra that I understand contradicts each other. In fact, the deeper I go, the  more compatible I find them. With due diligence on the seeker’s part, ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will find them.’ I am trusting in this right now.

And here I can’t really say more. Silence and discretion are important here, but I don’t write now because of that, I write because I don’t know anything about tomorrow! It’s a mystery……