A Return to the Past, A Path to the Future

A landscape photograph. The background is made of a gray sky peaking through the branches of leafless trees which are covered in cascades of blooming wisteria, appearing as a purple haze around the branches. The foreground is vibrant green, mostly wisteria and ivy, a few blooms of wisteria clearly visible. To the right in the foreground is the corner of an abandoned house, paint peeled away and mostly gray, darker than the sky, with remnants of vibrant teal pain along the bottom edges. Photograph by author.

So, I tried a new thing. In Gaelic Polytheism, we don’t usually celebrate what many Pagans call the “Quarter Days,” (Yule, Ostara, Litha, Mabon) usually just celebrating our Fire Festivals that most of the generally Pagan Cross-quarter Days come from (Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh). A few years ago, maybe longer, I started celebrating Grianstad an tSamhraidh (Midsummer). We know historically that rent was payed to Manannán Mac Lir for his protection of Ellan Vannin (Isle of Mann) and in southern Ireland Áine was honored at the same time. A year or so after that, I also decided it made sense to celebrate Grianne at the opposite point of the year, Grianstad an Gheimhridh (Midwinter).

But for the last couple years, it’s really struck me how much that doesn’t line up with my seasons Down South. I’d already made mental adjustments, thinkin of the holidays truly as the beginning of seasons rather than just days, but it still wasn’t right. And it makes sense. This far south of Ireland, our climate varies muuuuch more wildly. Our winters are shorter (though can be colder or warmer), come later, leave sooner. We rarely get snow. And our summers come soon are are easily 30°F/21°C hotter. We have much faster and more visible transitions. So, oddly enough, I’ve moved forward while lookin back, so to speak. This year, I decided to use the Spring Equinox (I don’t know the Irish for this or how appropriate it would be) to officially say goodbye to Grianne for the year and welcome Áine. It was nothin major, but it felt nice to do it. I’ve got a pair of candles on either end of my house, one for each that represent winter and summer that I burned from sundown to sundown and gave water to Grianne for her rest while offering flowers to Áine as a welcome and thanks for the warmth to come. The plan, I think, is to do the inverse come Autumn Equinox and incorporate this into my relgious calendar.

An image of Áine’s shrine. A y’all candle in summer shades of yellows, oranges, and a few reds is surrounded by pink and white azalea blooms, a purple iris, unknown small white flowers in clusters on branches, and cascades of wisteria, all on a teal table. There is a window behind that is dark, reflecting the light from inside the house. Photograph by author.

It’s strange because, after years of somewhat retraining my brain to forget the 8 holidays of the wheel, I’m seemingly returning to them, but in a decidedly different way. Just as Grianstad an tSamhraidh and Grianstad an Gheimhridh are relatively minor holidays with simple offerings, so are the Equinoxes. Or so will they be. To me, it makes sense, both as a modern practitioner and one decidedly influenced (as we all are, whether someone wants to admit it or not) by modern Pagan practices and communities. I think I fought this for as long as I did because of clinging to a Recon label, but I find that so constricting now. Is my practice any less informed by history? Not at all. I’m simply makin room for new ideas and evolution. And if I decide I don’t like it or it doesn’t work, I can always drop it again. But for now, it feels right.

Additionally, as I begin to explore ADF, it makes sense to me to find meaning in times like this that I, personally, already find meaningful. And who is to say that this wouldn’t have been a natural evolution anyway? So often anymore, it seems that hardcore Gaelic Recons want to simply act as gatekeepers rather than spiritually sound people or even individuals who can agree that all our practices won’t look the same. Just as Áine was honored locally, not nationally considering that’s a modern construct itself, it only drives home the point of a truly local cultus that can express the needs and desires of practitioners.

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Imbolc 2018

Imbolc snuck up on me faster than I could have guessed this year! But I’m so ready for spring, so not gonna complain. I kept it really simple this year. Again. And while part of me likes that, I really, really want to work on liturgy. For Bealtaine, I may look at the ADF liturgy, see what strikes me and use it as a template if nothin else.

But it was pretty relaxed. It got up to about 65ºF on Thursday, which was so perfect for Imbolc in the South. I was afraid it was gonna rain, but it didn’t. I’d set up the framework for the fire in the old chimney out back a while ago, so I just took some of the junk mail, dryer lint, and and paper bags out to use for fodder. Practical, environmental, and symbolic. I’d also saved the cardboard containers that mushrooms come in, which are perfect for non-liquid offerings cause you can just toss the whole thing in the fire, makin cleanup even easier. I offered butter and cream per tradition, as well as some limes because I love them and for the way they remind me of spring. They were a little older, but still good, which seemed like a good balance, too. I also burned my wreath from the winter, which hung on the front door from just after Samhain until Thursday. It was made from some kind of sweet-smelling evergreen and good lord did it burn! I need to clear out the smaller tress that have grown up around that chimney cause the flames had to blaze up to 8 ft high and I was afraid it was gonna catch the little trees on fire. But it also makes sense as to how Christmas tree fires get outta hand so fast; I’ve never seen anything burn like that. But everything was fine, lesson learned, and I love the idea of burning away the old and a symbol of winter. I wore it on my head for a few minutes, which reminded me that I’ve had some kind of seasonally floral crown the last 2 major fire holidays and I think I wanna keep up that tradition. One of the things I’ve been reflecting on about it is that the green helps with my seasonal depression initially, but at some point transitions to bein a reminder that it’s still winter. Burning it was therapeutic and I think that’s as important as anything.

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My winter wreath

But I didn’t have anything prepared for the liturgy. Instead, I used an Imbolc playlist from YouTube, which turned out to be really good, and sang to Brighid and Na Dé. I was out there for a couple hours, singing, contemplating, and just being. That part was nice and I like the idea of including that, but feel the need (and have for years) to have ritual language to use during the processional and for a formalized offering. I usually speak through what I”m offering and why, but that still doesn’t feel adequate. But I’m just gonna have to actually do somethin about it rather than just continuously complain abut it.

But it was a good day overall. I took Moonie on a walk and saw the daffodils gettin ready to bloom. The Southern snowdrop, if you will. It’s always nice to see them pop up. And I noticed that the Chinese Magnolias are juuussssst startin to bud, so they’ll be flowerin soon, too, which is usually when spring is here to stay.

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The daffodils almost in bloom

Until then, I’ll keep forgin this new extension of my Southern Gaelic path and see what happens. Despite my longings for finer details, I’m truly happy with where I am and where I’m headed.

Featured image from Margherita Pesando 

The Nature of My Gods

This is my first participation in the Gaelic Roundtable, despite intentions to participate previously and participating in other iterations. I’m really hoping to make this somethin I continue monthly. But this month’s topic is Divinity in Gaelic Polytheism.

This is question I’ve struggled with since the first encountered it as an idea. My first into to the idea of polytheism was through Egyptology. Bein from Memphis, TN, there are a lot of cultural ties, at least in the mind of the city, to Egypt. We have the Pyramid downtown, once a museum and athletic space (and now tragically a Bass Pro – I have feels), that had large statues of Rameses II and was covered in hieroglyphics. We also have a permanent Egyptian exhibit in The Pink Palace, a children’s museum in a former mansion. While there are definitely aspects of permanent Egypt exhibits that warrant discussion, my viewing of it as a child ignited a love that’s never ceased. To be quite honest, if it hadn’t been for such a strong pull to the gods of the Gaels, I’d likely have been a Kemetic (or Hellenistic) Polytheist.

My next exposure was in reading Greek mythology. And I was fascinated. Just like Egyptian history and myths, I soaked it up, reading everything I could on it. Of course, I predate the Percy Jackson series, so that wasn’t on my list, but I can guarantee that I’d have snatched that up in a heartbeat. I thought about the Theoi all the time, constantly wondering what they were like and what other gods existed. Then I went through a “Cowboys and Indians” phase, but I recognize in retrospect that what I was really fascinated by were the religious practices of Native American and First Nations peoples. Stories of the Sky Father and Spider Woman absolutely fascinated me. And they felt real in a way that Christian narratives just never did.

All that is to say that, without me even realizing it, I already had a fairly solid worldview of polytheism even as a practicing Christian. I think  in some ways I even had a phase of subconscious henotheism. In my mind, the stories we have of na Dé are the stories our ancestors told to make sense of somethin they couldn’t quite wrap their heads around. Do I think it’s possible that there are apotheosized ancestors in the lore? Humans mixed into the stories for various reasons? Sure. It’s likely even. But I simply do not ascribe to the idea that the entirety of Irish lore is comprised of apotheosized characters. Even the Book if Invasions, which seems to be what so many people cite as an argument for pure apotheosis, doesn’t prove this to me because why would deities not be allowed movement? Especially as tied to the land as so many of na Dé are, if they chose to leave a previous land, they could and would. This, frankly, also factors into my ideas of how and why so many in the US connect with our divinities. So, in that way, I guess I largely do view the Irish deities as “traditional” or “classical” divinity. We are of them, they are of us, but there’s a distinction there more than when we inhabited this plane of existence.

As for other deities, spirits, or entities, I’d be hard-pressed to think of anyone who IDs as GP and doesn’t. In my opinion, na Aos Sidhe clearly bridge some kind of gap between this world, the Otherworld, and other worlds, and na Dé. There’s a reason we use the term “na Dé ocus Andé.” And when I say “clearly bridges a gap,” it’s somewhat tongue in cheek considering the amorphous and ephemeral boundaries of pretty well everything in Gaelic Polytheism, the idea simply being that there’s still some sense of “glue” between points on a spectrum. As someone that considers themselves a “hard polytheist” and then who also comes from a pluralistic society and culture, it would be both arrogant and asinine not to recognize the plethora of deities, spirits, energies, ghost, and ancestors that travel with and among us. We’re not only influenced by what we experience around around our individual selves,  we’re acted upon by unseen forces and I see no point in denying that.

 


Featured image: Empyrean Island by batkya

Gaelic Polytheism 101

So, I know there are lots of guides out there, which is part of why I’m making this post, tbh. A good friend saw me posting in a Facebook group for witches and magical folk in Appalachia…and then several folks cosigned, lol. So, I decided to turn that private message into a resource guide of sorts. This will, in all likelihood, grow and shift over time, but here it is as of October 2017.

  1. First is a Guide to Gaelic Polytheism a friend of mine put/is putting together. For those of you that’ve followed me for any length of time, more than likely know @nicstoirm and have probably seen this, but given that this is a resource, I’m obviously including it. It’s not complete as far as I know, but has some good stuff to glance through. The whole blog is dedicated to explaining various aspects, though they haven’t been super active there lately.
  2. I’ll also include my own WordPress. There’s a lot of crossposting for folks that follow me here, but not always and sometimes I leave out certain details here because of the nature of the platform.
  3. I’m also gonna include both the Gaelic Polytheism tag on Tumblr (though with a caveat of skepticism for a certain someone who mentions Lovecraft in their bio. The trollishness is real, which makes it nigh impossible to take anything else they say seriously) and the Gaelic Polytheism tag on WordPress. Obviously these will update over time and it’s always a good idea to read from a variety of sources to see what directions you’re pulled in and what resonates most with you. Since there is no liturgical hierarchy, practices can look very different.
  4. I’m also gonna include this one cause there’s a TON of really GREAT information, but with a caveat. The people that wrote a lot of this are the people who run Gaol Naofa, a Gaelic Polytheism organization (and really probably the largest solely Gaelic Polytheism). They claim to be super inclusive, but a few years back, me and pretty well everyone under 30 at the time left the organization because some pretty significant transphobia popped up. Without too much detail, I think the original interaction was salvageable, but certain leadership stepped in and blew it all to hell. At this point, I’m glad to know, tbh. The scholarship in so much of their stuff really is excellent, but I always feel the need to put that out there up front, too for personal safety.

    There are also a lot of links there with really good info, too, but pretty well all of those (Save maybe Cailleach’s Herbarium) are run by the same folks, so I just avoid direct interaction. Take that as you will.

If anyone has anything they think makes sense in a beginner’s guide in terms of free online resources, please let me know! This was put together quickly and on the fly, so I’m in no way sayin it’s complete or comprehensive. I think a 102 guide would be somethin really cool to create, plus book lists and all kinds of other things if they don’t currently exist in a concrete form, so feel free to include that, too.

A Touch of the Divine

Admittedly, my daily routine has been pretty nonexistent lately. Between the absolute chaos of my summer, moving to a new state, and starting grad school, my life is literally still in some boxes. But I decided last week that I had to stop makin excuses and get back into it. I needed to. So I made some offerings in the outdoor space (that I showed y’all a while back) at the end of last week and have been meaning to start up my daily morning prayers again. Well, I also realized that mornings just don’t go well for me. I should know this by now, but I finally accepted it. So I’ve decided that I’m gonna commit to evening prayers for now because that seems like somethin I can truly commit to.
When prayin to Brighid, I usually add three drops of an oil that smells like “home” to me to scent the candle. I did that tonight, started my prayer, and next thing I know I’m not in my living room anymore. I don’t know that I was anywhere in particular, but had this absolutely overwhelming sense of “elsewhere” as well as calm and…love/acceptance/hospitality/not sure English has a word for the feeling tbh. But it was sooooo intense. And after a prolonged absence, it was also reassuring.
Once I snapped back to this reality, I felt a little drained and woozy, which happens pretty rarely for me like this. But it felt so real and I’m so thankful for that. It’s always nice to have that push, but this is also why I’ve never made any kind of long term, super specific oath: I’ve known I couldn’t reliably keep it. But this makes me hopeful that I can in the future.
Then, I walked toward the bathroom to take a shower and despite the fact that I’ve listened to pretty just podcasts lately, this was what pulled up.
You can even see that I’d already started writing this post and got super caught off guard there in the background, lol. Wild.
So, that’s a quick update from me. I hope y’all are all doin well! I’m finally settling into a pattern in grad school, so I’m hopin to be back around more again.

Pulse: When Hearts Stop Beating

In a crowd of people golding candles, a masculine person's arm with a medium brown skin tone is painted in the colors of the rainbow and is outstretched holding a candle in a plastic cup. There are many more peopl ein the background holding candles and there palm trees and tall buildings with rainbow lights in the far background.

When I decided I wanted to write about death last year, I don’t think I foresaw just how many things relating to death that I’d be writing about, but here we are again. This is about my own experience with this tragedy, faced 650 miles away from the actual events, but one that hit home in a way I was completely unprepared for. This is a pretty long post, but it was incredibly cathartic and hopefully helpful for other folks.

Today marks the 1st anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre in Orlando, one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history. This time last year, I was takin my final classes of my undergraduate career, Spanish oddly enough, and tryin to survive on a little over $500/month when my rent alone cost that much; I still can’t figure out how I made it. What little I was making came mostly from an employer who is homophobic, transphobic, ableist, full-fledged misogynist, and casually racist. I was also fightin my university for not protecting Queer, POC, disabled, female, or any minority status students; fightin with the state legislature for literally makin it illegal to fund the Office for Diversity & Inclusion (the law has now expired, but no clue what’s actually happenin yet); and tryin to lead a group of student leaders (who had been stabbed in the back days earlier by a now ousted member) in these efforts through “respectable” means while participating in a more radical organization that was willin to do whatever it took. I was at wits end, just tryin to make it to August when I would officially graduate, move home, and pay off some debt. I just had absolutely nothin left to give. And then it happened.

The massacre happened on Saturday night and I was working 12 hour shifts on Sundays, so I’d gone to bed fairly early. Sundays tend to be a pretty busy day in a veterinary ER, but for whatever reason, we were fairly slow that morning. I don’t remember what was on TV, but I got a Facebook alert that a friend had “marked themselves safe,” a feature I’d only seen a time or two before after some major event. I didn’t have a clue what had happened since I’d gone to bed early, so I googled and felt like I’d been slammed in the gut. At that point, no one had any idea what happened and there were *only* 12 victims or so. But over the next couple hours, the count climbed higher and higher until it hit 49. We stayed pretty slow and I later realized my coworkers just let me sit in front of the TV all day. They check on me, sat with me when we didn’t have anything goin on, andnever asked to change the channel. I was just floored. I had to go to the bathroom to cry a couple times, but I absolutely lost it when I got into my car at the end of the day. I sat and collected myself before headin back to an empty house since my roommate was in Norway for an internship to finish up his degree.

When I got home, the first thing I did was pop open my laptop. We’d cut off our cable to save money, so I stayed glued to social media and then news clips I could see online and kept my phone in my hand to look at multiple sites at once. I cried all night long and at 4am, realizing what time it was, I knew there was no way I was gonna be able to function in class, so I emailed my professor. Thank the gods, he understood and didn’t count the absence against me. He even moved the quiz that was supposed to happen that day so that I wouldn’t miss it. Turns out he’d seen several of the interviews I’d done on local news and could probably fathom how hard I was takin all this.

The next little bit was a blur. The recently fired director of our defunded Pride Center organized a vigil with counsellors present for Tuesday and I went to that. Of course, university administrators – some of whom had flat out laughed at student safety concerns –  showed up and attempted to co-op the event in person and on social media as if they’d planned it, which only made it harder. We couldn’t even totally just grieve because we were all just so damn angry that they were there. At one point, through tears, I called out the university’s (now former) chancellor and told him that people like him were directly responsible for so much of the grief in the room; he rolled his eyes at me. Typical for him and the tone he set for pretty well the whole of admin.

All of this has led me to the decision I seem to have made without even realizing it. I think it’s important here to disclose, if you didn’t already know, that I’m a white cis gay man. As all the facts came out, it was obvious that the majority of the victims in this massacre were of Puerto Rican and/or Latinx descent and that the attack happened on Latin Night. Whether this crime was intended to specifically target Queer/LGBTQ+ Latinx PoC or not, they were the majority of the casualties and if this event impacted me so heavily, I can only imagine what people closer to the location or who shared more common identities with the victims felt. But because of the visceral reaction I had, one that I feel pangs of any time one of our siblings is lost, I’ve decided that I want to incorporate a special day of ancestral remembrance. Through honoring those that have preceded us all, many of whom have paid the ultimate price, I hope that we can truly unite the community more. June is already Pride Month (even though both my hometown and the city I’m movin to celebrate in October because of the heat, lol), plus the Pulse anniversary will fall in June every year, so it only makes sense to me. I’m also toying with the idea of a Queer ancestor elevation to help all those lost to violence or who never got to live as their authentic selves because of their Queer/LGBTQ+ identities, but because of everything happening in my own life this year, I’m gonna wait and plan to start that next year. Today, I’ll be honoring the victims of the Pulse Massacre by reading their names and prayin for them. I’ll be prayin that Brighid offers comfort to their families and/or to them as needed (especially the person whose father wouldn’t even claim their remains), that Airmid and Miach continue to heal those still with us, and that Manannán mac Lir casts his mist of protection around Queer/LGBTQ+ people the world over. It’s a small gesture that I hope grows with time, though not in terms of numbers or necessity. I want the ritual to have a feeling of breadth because, while spurred by the Pulse tragedy, they are far from our only siblings lost. Folks Leelah Alcorn, Islan Nettles, Matthew Shepard, and far too many others have been lost far too soon and we can’t forget them, nor the gains we’ve made as a community from the publicity of their deaths. We can’t change what’s happened, but we can honor them as we continue the fight to prevent it from happening again.

A single while taper candle is burning in the center of the fram, held by a hand that is at the bottom of the frame and the edge of the back of someone's head on the right of the frame. In the background, blown out lights in the colors of the rainbow fill most of the image.

But the sad fact is that this isn’t one community, even though I wish it were a more unified one. The reality is that Black SGL folks don’t face the same struggles that Latinx Queer people do, who don’t face the same struggles as White LGBTQ+ folks do, who don’t…you get my drift. We all share elements of common identity, but that hasn’t stopped anti-Black or -Brown sentiment from it’s prevalent place in many Queer circles. To truly move forward, we (White folks) have to do the hard work of fighting racism in our worlds, listening to out PoC siblings, and making those changes despite whatever discomforts we may find in those moments.

May na Dé protect us all and may we grow together, move forward, and forge a new world for those who will call us “ancestor.”

Grianstad an Gheimhridh 2016

Image of an altar with candles on a white painted windowsill. On the far left is a large lit pillar candle, white at the top and fading to gold at the bottom. Next is a clear faceted glass candle holder holding a lit white taper candle. In the middle of the space is a gold arched candleholder with the silhouettes of pine trees on the front. This holds 4 lit votive candles; the left 2 are white, the right 2 are gold. In front of this sits a lit small white

TheModernSouthernPolytheist’s Grianstad an Gheimhridh altar for Gráinne 2016

Grianstad an Gheimhridh Shona, y’all! It’s hard to believe it’s that time again! Yet here we are.

I feel like a lot has changed in the last year, and yet this was a ritual that felt familiar. I’m hopin by next year to have somewhat of a solidified liturgy, but I made the decision a long time ago to let that kind of thing develop as naturally as I could. I don’t wanna force somethin and end up hatin it or it feelin disingenuous.

That said, the format and connection to other holidays has really taken shape this year. I’ve come to a lot of realizations and, through talkin to other Gaelic Polytheists in various locations across the country and the globe, I feel like things are takin shape in more concrete ways. Discussions of local cultus in the South, most of whom seem to be Hellenic Polytheists, has also truly had a major impact. It’s helped me flesh out my own ideas as well as solidify the idea that we don’t all have to practice identically and never even did. The idea of true orthodoxy simply doesn’t fit into my understanding of a Gaelic Polytheist worldview.

Which brings me to this year’s ritual. In the last year, I’ve truly come to see Gráinne/Grain as Áine’s sister. I realize in retrospect that I’d somehow come to view her as an enemy or adversary. I think it has to do with my own struggles with winter that led to that, but one day it was like a light turned on and that idea just seems so foreign to me now. As such, I altered the idea of the ritual to be about transitioning from the time of Áine to the time of Gráinne rather than about somethin more akin to tolerating the winter.

In a Gaelic worldview, days begin with sundown of the calendar day before, similarly to the way Jewish days run. I was out of town visiting family for an early Christmas since I’ll be workin on the 25th, so I knew I couldn’t do a full ritual that night. Before leaving and while the sun was just barely still in the sky, I burned a stick of incense I reserve for Áine, thanking her for her warmth and wishing her a speedy return. Before I went to bed that night, I lit a small jar candle that I’d got to use that felt appropriate for Gráinne, said a quick prayer, and let it burn overnight. I’ll admit that I had more time and expendable income this year than I have in a long time and likely more than I’ll have again for a while, so I splurged a little. I found a gorgeous white candle that transitions to gold that I feel really represents the transition from the pale face of the winter sun, Gráinne, to the warm yellow summer sun, Áine. I doubt that I’ll ever find a candle that does the opposite (I looked and didn’t see one), but it’s given me ideas for ways to incorporate those color transitions in the future.

White to gold candle representing the transition from Grainne to Áine

As for the ritual itself, I started by lighting the gold taper candle and thanking Áine for her warmth and presence. I then used this candle to light the the two white votive candles. From these candles, I lit the white taper representing Gráinne, then lit the gold votives. Really, this was all symbolism of the rising and setting sun, the transition of the seasons, etc. Lastly, I lit the white and gold pilar candle, talkin to Gráinne and askin that she keep us warm, drive away the bitter cold the An Cailleach brings, and that my relationship with and understanding of her grow. I let all the candles burn until they burned out, except for the pillar, which I put out when I left for work tonight. I think I wanna burn it again, maybe every couple weeks or somethin and time it to be about done by the time Grianstad an tSamhraidh hits.


In the future, I really wanna repeat this ritual, in reverse, to welcome Áine at Grianstad an tSamhraidh. But at the same time, this doesn’t feel totally right. I don’t know if it’s cause I’m in the South and our days are longer or what, but by the time the solstices roll around, we’ve been in the swing of the season for a while. I’ve never been one to do much with the equinoxes, but I’ve been entertainin the idea some kind of small recognition of the beginnin of this transition. It’s not been more than a passing thought, but it’s definitely an idea I want to explore.

All in all, I feel like it was a successful ritual. As a side note, the little strings of lights were an impulse buy while I was at Target. They were just festive and on sale, but I really think they added a nice touch. They’re not somethin I leave on their shrine all the time, but in this year of transition and without any other holiday decorations, it just felt nice.

A Prayer for the Soul in my Arms

When Airmid’s herbs and Micah’s tricks
Can’t heal the pain and relieve the sick,
May I and Flidais comfort you
With whisps of pink and streams of blue.

While Brighid’s touch and loving caress
Gathers and holds who loved you best,
To the West, across the sea,
Let Manannán mac Lir carry thee

To Tech Duinn where Donn still dwells
An isle of stone among the swells
To rest yourself and mend your soul
After this life has exacted its toll.

And when it’s time to move again,
For Tír na nÓg to let you in,
Eat the fruit and draw your breath
And never again know pain in death.

This is my own original work. It’s a prayer I’ve been tryin to write for years now and haven’t been able to. However, in the last 48 hours, it seems to have just flowed. I found myself sneakin away to write as I felt it and now that I’ve compiled it, it feels…whole.

This is the 2nd part of my Deathwork series.

I Am Become Death…

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and the other begins?

-Edgar Allen Poe

Content Warning: This post is very heavy and involves some macabre details of my occupation and practice as well as discussion of suicide. I’ve also decided that this will be a multi-part series, though I have no idea how many.

Many folks that have known me over the years know that I work in emergency veterinary medicine and have been in the industry for 13 years now. It’s an often thankless job, full of blood, violence, tears, and anguish. But hey, someone’s gotta do it.

All jest aside, my work is very dark. Just this weekend, I saw necrotic limbs, flayed abdomens, and patients full of maggots;  it’s never a dull moment in the Heart of the Delta. These patients come in screamin, cryin, clawin, and gnashin. In these first moments, it’s part of my job to ease their suffering. Sometimes, that means pain meds and sedation so I can begin to help heal their wounds, but sometimes it means they’ve come to the end of their road – especially if they’re a stray.

A previous roommate of mine did a project when we both went back to college about death and about our role in it; that project has stuck with me. He’s a former veterinary technician and we talked about how many lives we had each personally ended. Not how many we’d witnessed or assisted, but personally ended. This was several years ago and after some basic math, we figured we were each up to at least 3,000. Continuing that math now and makin some minor adjustments, I realize I’m now well over 6,000. That’s 6,000 beating hearts that these hands have stopped, 6,000 lives I’ve watched leave the eyes, 6,000 paws (and a few wings) I’ve held in their final moments in this life. To say this has taken a toll on me is an understatement; there’s a reason you don’t see many vet techs older than 45.

As a testament to this, veterinary medicine has now overtaken all other professions in rates of suicide (XXX). And these articles are just about the vets, often completely ignoring the nursing and support staff. Compassion fatigue has become a huge issue, leading my alma mater to do somethin proactive for once and pioneer the field of veterinary social work (XX). It’s not uncommon to come home, start to unwind, and end up in tears over a soup commercial because I’ve spent all day on the edge of fightin it back. It can lead to very dark places and a lot of prayer and soul searchin to make it through.

As you can see, there’s a lot of trauma in the work I do. Which brings me to the religious component; I’ve been doin deathwork for as long as I can remember, since long before I ever identified as anything but Christian or had more than an inkling about actual magic. And really, it should come as no surprise to me or anyone else.

I was born under the shadow of death. My father was sick when I was born and died six months later. His father followed suit 6 days after my 1st birthday. My life was peppered with death since I was an infant, never goin more than six months without attending a funeral. Comin from a rough neighborhood in a Grit ‘n Grind town, I buried friends, loved ones, and family my entire life. It was so common that when I met people in college who’d never attended a funeral, I was shocked. Death has simply always been there, loomin like a predator and yet a constant companion. Becoming an agent of that death seems like a natural progression.

My work in veterinary medicine is, in retrospect, I think what led me to Flidais, and possibly her to me. The short version is that I felt a presence for years, especially when I’d spend long periods of time contemplating my role as Death. After stumbling upon her name, I instantly knew who’d been there all along. Though not typically seen as a chthonic deity or psychopomp, my own UPG very much sees her with feet in those roles. In my world, she plays this role in conjunction with  Manannán mac Lir,  Donn, and to some degree Brighid, though that’s long, complex, and very UPG. As for Flidais, I pray each time I take a life, that it be in the creature’s best interest, that she helps them understand, and comforts them. I pray that Manannán leads them gently to the Isle of Donn, that they rest there comfortably, and eventually Manannán leads their souls to the place of their eternal rest.

This past weekend, I faced a particularly hard case. Where I work, we regularly take in strays, often in the form of random pit bulls and kittens. Many of the kittens come in sick, but not too worse for wear. One kitten, one that should have been destined to be a beautiful black domestic longhair, came in weak, thin, and sickly. Many times, that alone leads to euthanasia simply because there are so. damn. many. kittens at any given time. In fact, the city is so full right now that none of the shelters or rescue groups can even hold any more. But I couldn’t bring myself to make that call. Upon tryin to get a temperature on the kitten, I noticed a small wound with little white visitors poppin in and out. This is another point at which most people call the game, but it didn’t look all that bad and I just knew it would be fine. So I gave her some pain medicine, gloved up, got the hot water goin, and began to debride the wound, one maggot at a time. Once I was done, it really didn’t look that bad. The wound was just in the skin, there was no GI, muscle, or body wall involvement, but the kitten’s temperature was low. I settled her up with some warm water bottles and a heating bad, glad that she would make it. At that point, I went to grab a tube of in-house ophthalmic ointment, opened one eye, and my heart sank; the rump wound wasn’t the only place that other creatures had found a home. Her eyes were completely gone and there was nothing I could do. This explained so much else that was happening (that I’ve left out here) and I knew it was time. I swaddled her close and administered the final medication she’d ever need. I whispered to Flidais, finding a moment of silence comforting in a room swarming with chaos, and delivered her my latest soul harvest.

My Polytheism

6 people stand in this image, 2 to the left and 4 in the center and right. All are fressed in solid black. The person on the far left is  femme, has glasses and is holding a  sign, bit the text isn't visible. The person next tonthe right is in a hijab. Both of these people are looking toward the other 4 people. The next person is femme, has medium-dark skin, is wearing several small buttons, and is smiling widely at a person farther right. The next person is a light-skinned PoC with long hair andnis looking down. She is wearing sunglasses. the nest person is a light skinned white masculine person with his hair pulled up in a bun. He is wearing a rainbow bracelt, white arm band, sunglasses, abs is speaking into a microphone. The last person is Asian, is looking at the person to  the left, and is standkng with his hand on his hip.

Organizers speak at the #MassClassExit staged by #UTDiversityMatters at the University of Tennessee -Knoxville in spring 2016.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about my own religious practice lately. I’ll start by sayin that I’ve been in what I often hear referred to as a “fallow time,” or so I thought. See, I’ve been in a place in my life where I haven’t had much time to devote to religious practice. I just graduated with a BFA in Photography and BA in Religious Studies after a 12 year uphill battle. I was also simultaneously working 3 jobs and heading up a group of student leaders trying to save our LGBTQIA+ Center from a university and state legislature that are hellbent on forcing us back into the closet. Sure, I think it about religion regularly and a while back came to the conclusion that my life and decisions are constantly influenced by my religion (that’s another topic I’ve been meanin to talk about since right before Gods & Radicals really seemed to blow up. But that’s for another day) but I rarely had much time to do anything about it. But now that I’m taking a year off to prep for grad school, I should have more time for my religious practice, right? Well, that’s what I thought, too.

But I’ve come to a realization. As my life is so influenced by my view of my gods, what they would find pleasing, and what they expect from me, I noticed what had been in front of me all along. Just as my practice has and will change when shifting regions, it had changed without me even noticing. I was living my Polytheism. My activism, organizing, and protesting was inspired by and an honor to Na Mórrígna. My work with fellow Queer people was honoring Manannán mac Lir, forging new and liminal spaces and working with people transitioning in various ways. My attempts to create a safe space, a home away from home or in lieu of home as so many of us described it, honors Brighid. Working, existing, and forging new spaces in the South, upholding the almighty Southern hospitality honor my ancestors, both recent and ancient. My work in emergency veterinary medicine, my source of income and first passion, honors Flidais. My healing and nursing honor Airmid and Miach. My care of the suffering, even if it means ending their suffering, honors Donn, too. My studying and academic aspirations honor Ogma. Filling in the gaps and making everything work honors Lugh, the master of all trades.

A black mortarboard sits on a wooden desk. The mortarboard has been painted to say

A collage of graduation accoutrement

All of these ideas act on my simultaneously and I act them out in return. They are a part of me. I am a part of them. While I have every intention of resuming regular offerings and prayers, celebrating holidays with big meals, and all the other things I’ve done in the past, I also realize that it doesn’t have to look like that. My Polytheism is just that: MINE. It is a lived tradition. It is an evolving tradition. One that I hope to grow and pass down, to share with others, but one that that is ultimately mine.

That said, I’ve already started setting up shrines in my new space and I couldn’t feel more at home.