A Bump in the Road

I seem to have hit a snag in working through ADF’s Dedicant Path. And since this week is supposed to be a High Holy Day in terms of the workbook, so I think I’m gonna hit pause and see if I can work through a few things, especially since I’ll be traveling the week of the Solstice this year. I’ve had holdups and reservations from day 1, forever unsure that this ritual structure truly works for me. Some elements, I’ve found I can pretty easily get past like the honoring of the Earth Mother, which feels far too Neo-Pagan for my liking. But as an animist, I can also make this more literal or metaphysical and less archetypal. However, the juxtaposition of her with the Sky Father is one I really can’t seem to get past and frankly I’m not sure I even want to. The Earth is, in effect, our mother, however I’ve always seen her as somewhat of a single parent, if that makes sense. This likely has to do with how I view the sun and its associations with Áine and Grianne. Clearly the sun is important, but I don’t view it as a deity in its own right. And as far as that goes, I don’t view the Earth as a Goddess™, but that language still seems fitting and she certainly deserves a place of honor as our home and the only planet we know of that can support life as we know it.

There’s also the issue of some of the ritual language. At times, ADF refers to “Land, Sky, and Sea,” which is very familiar and comfortable to me as a Gaelic Polytheist, but then other times it seems randomly interchanged with the Fire, Well, and Tree symbolism. And maybe I’m just not used to it, but I find it a little grating as of now. There’s a lot of other language that I’ll have to rework for my own personal rituals, though I did stumble across a Gaelic Polytheist ADF ritual that may be a better starting point. However, I’ve never been one to engage in language that goes against my own theology, so the idea of a group ritual being so far out of my own beliefs is somethin that gives me pause. As The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year states,

“ADF celebratesThe eight Neo-Pagan High Holy Days. They are celebrated in ADF because we are a Neo-Pagan organization. Not every Indo-European culture celebrated these festivals at the times that ADF and the wider Neo-Pagan community celebrates them, but as we are modern Neo-Pagans (not ancient pagans or reconstructionists), part of our identity relies on the fact that we keep these days holy.”

Though I don’t really use the Recon label anymore, I do still operate in that sphere. I know it’s an argument of semantics, but I also very much do not identify as a “Neo-Pagan” and never have, largely cause I feel like it gives a very wrong impression of my practice. But I also worry how that might sound, especially to folks who don’t really know much about me.

At the same time, this whole thing still seems worthy of pursuit, at least to see it through the DP program. It has, however, made me very curious about OBOD and AODA. For now, I may try and apply the ADF structure to this year’s Queer Ancestors ritual and see how it goes. Since I think I’ll be doin that in 2 parts this year, I may try one part with ADF and one more like last year and see which resonates better.

And a last note: thanks for bearin with me this week. This is far from eloquent writing and is certainly a lot of stream of consciousness, so just know I appreciate y’all.

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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

Another Ancestor Born

I prayed to Jesus for the first time in 16 years this week and it left quite the impression…

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As an ex-Christian, as many of us are, I’ve worked hard to move past and let go of the anger and sheer hatred toward Christianity, Christians, and organized religion that I developed over the years of mistreatment I faced in a Christian church. But those emotions still surface from time to time. This time, however, felt different. 

As I watched my grandfather lay in a hospital bed of the burn unit, I prayed to Brighid for healing. I prayed to Airmid to guide the nurses and let the medicines do their best. I prayed to Miach to restore his body. And I prayed to Jesus, the god of my grandfather, to see his child and heal him. This wasn’t somethin I did lightly or without a great deal of thought, both previously in the abstract and in the moment of need. But then Pap-ah died. 

I knew it was comin. He’d gone from sittin up, talkin, and jokin to gaspin for breath even with an oxygen mask on his face. He was no longer able to understand why he had been restrained. And finally he had to be re-intubated, only to progress to multi-organ failure. I knew. I’ve worked in emergency veterinary medicine too long to not see the parallels. And then we made the decision that we never should’ve had to make to just keep him comfortable until the inevitable happened. Unlike my world, we couldn’t stop the suffering for him, but I’m also not sure I could’ve made it. 

And then I was angry again. Angry st Pah-pa for bein his normal stubborn self and not listenin to anyone when he was told to just let the branches dry out some more before he burned em. Mad that he didn’t have the water hose out there like he normally does. Irritated that people kept blamin his strokes for the behavior and not realizing that he’s always been that way. Angry at myself for not takin it as seriously as I should’ve when we first got the call. And finally, furious that Jesus had failed to do what he should’ve done and saved Pap-ah. But then I had to stop. My gods hadn’t saved him either. 

Havin now been a Polytheist of some sort for 13+ years, I know that my gods don’t intervene every time I ask. I know that this doesn’t mean they don’t care or arent listenin, but when it came to Jesus, that evangelical Protestant upbringin came rushin back. And I’d gone so far as to pray to a god that I still have some issues with! And for someone he supposedly loves. But just as quickly, I began to reconcile that how I viewed Jesus doesn’t line up with how I view any other gods and that I’d just never taken the time to purge that old thought process. 

I don’t for a second buy the line that “it was his time” and frankly find that to be bullshit. No one survives scarlet fever, the Great Depression, more injuries and surgeries than can be recounted, and 4 strokes only to die from secondary complications from a burn. I’ll never believe that. This was all the result of a careless decision and denying that doesn’t make it any less painful or true. 

But none of this changes the outcome. It’s vertically challenged my beliefs and worldview, but ultimately strengthened them as best I can tell. It’s revealed my views on gods in general, already there but non-verbalized. My worldview remains the same, but more concrete in its execution. Though I have no doubts that Pap-ah would’ve disapproved of my beliefs about most everything in life, I truly hope he’s now at peace and able to see me for who I truly am and how I navigate the world. I pray that he’s at peace and will forever keep a protective and loving eye out for me. 

Saturday, we lay my last father-figure to rest. At 31, I’m now the oldest living male in my immediate family line and the seriousness and mortality of that is heavy. In just 4 years, I’ll be as old as my father was when he joined the ancestors; I’d be lyin if I didn’t admit that terrifies me. But I can’t do anything but keep movin forward. All any of us can do is keep movin forward and pray that when we join the ancestors ourselves, we’re ready. 

White dogwood flowers on a blown out green grassy background

The flower of his home state and the name of his eternal resting place…

Restin’ Them Bones

Go and get my bones,
Bring ’em to the Deep South,
Somewhere they can thaw out,
Here in the the Deep South…

A black and white photo of the grave of an unknown soldier in Friendship Cemetery, Columbus, MS, restin place of both Union and Confederate soldiers from the Battle of Shiloh. The grave marker itself stands upright, has a very slightly elevated point in the middle, and appears to have been white or light colored originally, but is now covered in a layer of grime. An equal-armed cross adorns the top and the word "unknown" is written in large block letter along a curved line in the middle of the marker. A large, gnarled tree root buts up against and then grows up the bottom right corner of the stone. Other grave markers can be seen, blurred in the background.

The grave of an unknown soldier in Friendship Cemetery, Columbus, MS, restin place of both Union and Confederate soldiers from the Battle of Shiloh.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been a stranger to death. Or rather, Death™ has never been a stranger to me. My father passed away when I was 6 months old, his father following 6 months later. After that, it was a seemingly endless parade of funerals and funeral processions through the country roads of the North Mississippi and broader Mid-South until I tuned 19. At that point, I was seemingly granted a reprieve until 23 when my first close high school classmate left us unexpectedly. At this point, I feel like my dealings with Death and death have been at fairly ordinary intervals, but when you stare her in the face more often than not as a child, it leaves an irrevocable mark. This mark has led to my relationships with ancestor veneration, methods of divination, certain deities, and my practice in general.

Recently, my uncle passed away. It was somewhat unexpected and definitely hit me hard. The more I thought about it, the worse I felt cause it had been a while since I’d seen him. Then I realized that my younger cousin has never really faced the death of a close loved one, let alone a parent. Her older brother was ~12 when our grandmother passed away, but she was only 5. I know she’s been to other funerals, but that’s not the same. They’ve been amazingly strong, but I know hoe deep-seated that pain can be and how quickly it can come rushing to the surface with the force a tsunami without a moment’s notice.

This funeral was different for me in many ways, too. This is one of, though not THE first time I’ve attended a family funeral as my adult self. For my very rural family, sometimes this presents the issue of “explaining” me to their friends and neighbors as I walk in with blue hair, stretched ears, and a face full of metal. Now Daddy’s side could care less what anyone else thinks for the most part, but Momma’s is the opposite. Thankfully, as weird and wrong as that sounds, this was Daddy’s side, but it doesn’t change the way death always seems to mark me as an outsider since I’ve become an adult. Of course a funeral that isn’t mine isn’t about me, so it just leads to long-term suppression of those emotions that tend to erupt down the road in unpredictable ways.

The drive to rural North Mississippi alone gave me a lot of time to reflect on my own thoughts about death and afterlife. This was compounded by the times I had to zone out because the message that may or may not have been comforting to every other person in the room was doin nothin but grating my nerves. I found myself pondering the Greco-Roman nature of the rural funeral parlor, the motifs a mix of Christian and pagan elements, wondering if I was the only one to notice. It certainly allowed a much needed escape while pinned between in-law-esque family members that would likely string me up were they to ever learn of my religious practice or beliefs. I guess it’s worth noting here that I’m not actually related to these particular folks, but I know em well enough to know their thoughts on the matter. But these Greco-Roman pediments led down an ADHD trail of my own musings about what comes next. In that same vein, I always worry what family who pass will think of me as they view me from their Otherworld, but I swear if I didn’t feel a bit of comfort from my uncle, a Southern Baptist preacher, as if I felt him laid a hand on my shoulder and tell me he understands when envisioning adding him to my ancestor shrine space.

I firmly believe in an afterlife, but what that looks like, I frankly have no idea. For me, it feels natural at this point to think that I’ll spend some time with Donn after passin on before movin on to Tír na nÓg (or some other realm of existence) at some point. But do I think that same reality applies to everyone? I don’t know. Comin from an evangelical Christian background, a background that told me that everyone goes one of 2 places despite whatever religious convictions they held in life, I find it ridiculous to reassert that same belief system that forces everyone in to a cookie-cutter conception of an afterlife. So where does that leave me? Honestly, at an impassible juncture as of now. Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters; what happens after death is what happens, regardless of what I might like it to be. Maybe we each go where we believed we’d go in life. Maybe we can visit other peoples’ afterlives. Maybe we all go to the same place. Maybe there’s not anything after this. At some point, it becomes counterproductive for me to continue to dwell on the future in that capacity when there’s so much to be done in the here and now. And that’s where it’s left me.

But drivin those small town roads, a caravan of vehicles farther in each direction than the eye could see as we crested those Mississippi Pine Country hills, made me realize how much “home” is here for me. The casseroles, the funeral chicken, the good memories, all call to me in a time of death and remind me that Death will always be a constant companion, even if we lose touch for a little while. Despite what anyone else has to say about it, my home is here in the rituals, the landscapes, and the people of the South. Regardless of where I draw my breath, it always will be. I’d be just fine with an afterlife on the old family property, watchin the next generations learn and grow, protectin them, guidin them, and remindin them of those feelins of home. This is where I want to be, where I belong, and where I’ll hopefully one day rest my bones. Anything else is just gravy.