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 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.

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.

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.

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…

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.”

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.

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.