The First Oath

I’ve never been one for oaths when it comes to deities. Not really. I think it relates to the fact that, as a child, I made a sort of oath to the Christian God when I was “saved” and we can all see how that turned out, haha. And then when I first began exploring Paganism, I tried to make an oath to Na Mórrígna and frankly had no idea what I was doin. Thankfully, the ritual was a complete trainwreck and it never really happened; I think they knew I was well-intentioned, but completely unprepared or maybe some other cosmic somethin did. I realize now how much of a colossal mistake that could have been and therefore don’t approach the topic lightly. And as my practice has evolved, I’ve realized I don’t feel the need to be oathed. I think my place within the Gaelic Polytheist community is as a teacher and scholar, possibly even a leader or priest one day, all realizations I came to organically as my practice was continually pulled in so many directions. As such, I honor a wide variety of Gaelic deities, but not in any kind of exclusive way. And part of that is due to my studies, though that’s also sometimes a crutch I use as an excuse at times, too.

So when the idea of the “First Oath” popped up in ADF, I balked. I almost instantly decided I’d just skip that part. Nope. Not for me. However, the more I thought about it and took the time to read, I realized that this oath can be what I need it to be now. It doesn’t have to be anything outrageous or complicated, which is exactly what I need. My life is in a state of flux at the moment and I don’t wanna make an oath I can’t keep, yet I also don’t wanna keep puttin this process off. So, I decided to make the oath to myself.

I, as openly as possible, acknowledge myself a Polytheist
A seeker of ancestral paths and connections, and a bridge to the present. 
I seek to continue my years long path of honoring na Dé ocus Andé,
This oath serving as a marker of that intention.

I vow to seek virtue in my life, to honor the humanity of all,
To fight injustice wherever it arises, and to incorporate that reality into my religion.
I vow to do my best to practice and study, while also recognizing my limitations,
That this path isn’t leaving and that a pause is sometimes needed.

I promise these things to myself, to honor na Dé ocus Andé, the ancestors, humanity, and the world. 

In some ways, I worry this might feel too secular, but it’s what I can reasonably vow right now. As a graduate student, my free time waxes and wanes, but unlike the moon, I can and will hit the pause button when need be. And considering my academic work is also focused on modern Paganisms, it’s reasonable to assert that the separation between my own practice and study with that of my professional commitments is anything but solid.

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A New Endeavor

It’s been almost 17 years since I last stepped foot in a church as someone who truly considered themselves a Christian. But it wasn’t long before I found myself longing for a sense of community again. And I find myself still searching for that. I’ve found good friends along the way (shoutout to my CI folks, haha), but I still yearn for a more organized community. Part of me can’t even believe I’m sayin that. The last time I tried to join a religious organization, I wound up enmeshed in a months long situation where I, and others, were stalked online, were lied to, and were manipulated when we dared to speak out about transphobia. And to make it worse, the initial encounter that sparked the whole thing likely could have been worked through cause it very much seemed to stem from cultural differences rather than a truly bigoted place, yet organizational leadership showed their true colors and displayed some truly vile behavior. And yet here I am, on the precipice of tryin again.

So, back in August, almost a year ago now, I joined ADF, but I”m just now in a place where I can dedicate some time to starting the Dedicant Path. I doubt that this will be the end of a journey for me, but simply a new avenue of exploration. I’m still not convinved the organization is for me, though I’ve certainly ascertained that the local Grove is not and chances are, when I move again in a year, there won’t be a Grove anywhere near me. But I still think it’s worth exploring. I have no idea where this path will lead or if it’s simply a bypass that will rejoin the larger path I’ve been on for more than half my life now. It’s actually weird to think about it in those terms, but that doesn’t change the reality. Tbh, even if I love everything about ADF, as an academic and perpetually curious person, I know that I’ll likely investigate other organizations like OBOD, AODA, etc. It took years to shake the Christian conception that you can only belong to one religious structure at a time, but I’m there now. I guess time will tell what all I find, but I’m excited and ready to see what comes next.

Featured Image: “Great Blue Heron on Reelfoot Lake” by Byron Jorjorian via The Nature Conservancy

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.

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 

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.