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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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