Combining Catholicism and Paganism: the practicalities

Part one of this series is here (Intro to Catholicism); part two of the series is here (The Problems)

In the last two posts, I covered a (very, very brief) introduction to Catholicism and the problems inherent with mixing Catholicism and Paganism. Now I’ll sort through just how I mix the two. And I’ll be honest, it was hard to pick this apart…

Lighting candles is so much a part of both Brigidine practices and Catholicism, it’s difficult to tell which in which practice the candle is lit. And yet, lighting candles for specific intentions is a part of my day-to-day activities (well maybe, week-to-week). I ask my parents to light candles for me for important meetings or interviews, I’ll light them myself to ensure the internet stays working during a class or to help focus my mind on something specific. The candles I light myself are done with little ceremony, a tea light, a match (although the search for a match that bloody works has become a ceremony in itself at this point!), a quick “please let the internet stay stable for the next X time” and the candle placed in front of a statue of either Brigid or Mary. Weirdly, I rarely if ever use St. Therese for this.

I’ve said a lot previously that I believe the physical reflects the energetical and vice versa, so a lot of my energy cleaning work looks extremely similar to normal housework. I mean, if I’m washing the windows to improve my outlook or my vision, the windows of my house still get washed. As well, if I’m hoovering up dust to clear out some energy, or clearing clutter to remove stagnation, the house ends up looking nicer afterwards. From the outside, there’s no real difference in these activities. And yet, I believe that regardless of whether I’m thinking of it or not, clearing out clutter from the corners does help the energy to flow around the house more. Bringing light (i.e. clearing all the crap) away from the corners bears light on the hidden or unnoticed issues, but also means the room looks better. House designers and decorators speak of creating moods with lighting, textures and fabrics – how is this not magic?

Taking some straw from the crib at Christmas to ensure wealth or at least financial comfort during the year is obviously Christian in origin, but with real hints of pagan practices. A lot of the Irish folklore practices are like this and for more, there area few courses on the Irish Pagan School on this. Or indeed, go look at Dúchas. Lots of the traditional practices there.

From a practical point of view, despite long holding out that I don’t have an altar in my home, I realised the other day that I keep the altar below. So, the first picture on the left hand side is a picture of St. Therese. The Russian dolls were given to me by my mother and the little bottle of solid perfume by my Nana. The purple painting at the back I bought from a friend, it says: Faith makes all things possible. Hope makes all things brighter. Love connects us all together. It’s bedecked with little gems and I’ve had it nearly 10yrs now. There is a bowl of crystals and stones in front of this painting – I don’t buy crystals anymore now that I’ve learned about some of the horrific practices involved in mining them, not to mention the stripping of wealth from countries who need it. But I won’t throw out the ones I already have either – if people died so I could have them, it’s not right to try and forget that. The candle is a random tealight that got dropped there and the cross is on that was given out at Easter (2yrs ago now cos I’ve not been to church since COVID hit). The glass statue was a gift from my husband before we got married and says: love; 1. vb. to have great attachment to and affection for. 2. an intense emotion of affection, warmth and strong feelings of fondness. Next to that is a carving of a cat I got in Gambia for my Nana and I got it back after she died (it stood on her mantlepiece until she went into a home and then it was on her bedside table). The wooden statue in front of that is also from Gambia and one I bought for myself – it always reminds me of strength and power. Hiding behind that statue is one of St. Therese again. The mass card is a recent one for my Aunt Maura who passed away about 18months ago. The cross was from my parents and the rosary beads are from a man I used to visit in hospital – they’re from Jerusalem, so extra holy (hence why they’ve not been taken out of the packet yet!)

My not-an-altar….

Now as well as this, I also have my Brigid statue next to my desk (surrounded by clutter right now, I really need to do a tidy up!!) The card stuck in the back of the statue is one I got after an initiation a few years ago, outlining what that group of women saw as my gifts – something I like to read every now and again to remind me that there are people out there who see gifts in me. And to remind myself how far I’ve come in my spiritual journey

My Brigid statue – and accompanying clutter!!

So with the altar-that-isn’t-an-altar, we have remembering my ancestors and where I come from, along with St. Therese and reminders of the important things in my life – family, love, work. And it’s very strange but that bookshelf that is my altar rarely gets dusted, but also rarely has dust on it. I like to think of my Nanas popping in to clean the place up every now and again, tutting at my lack of housekeeping at the same time as being really proud of me that I have a job supporting my family. My Aunt Maura wouldn’t be too impressed with the place either!

I’ve often said before that a lot of my work for Brigid is in the realms of being a female engineer and being a role model, an example for those coming after me. It’s not always comfortable or easy, I’m not someone who likes being the centre of attention really, but it has to be done. The more women we have in engineering, or I suppose the more people who aren’t men we have in engineering, the better! Diversity leads to better problem solving and solutions…

Teaching and educating people is another important aspect of my practice. This comes from educations people about Brigid as I know her, what the hell Catholicism in Ireland is all about and about what engineering can mean. I mean, the Tuatha de Danann were people of skills and crafts – none of our Irish deities could be limited to just one skill at all – why would they expect the same from their followers?

There are areas that I mentally rule out because of mixing the two (Catholicism and paganism). I abohor violence. Not that I don’t think it’s useful and necessary at times, but my deity and my saints don’t ask me to start fights, participate in them, that sort of thing. They do ask that I am clear on what will engage my violent tendencies and that I support heavily those that do engage with the enemy, whether monetarily, moral support, physical support, whatever. My deities and saints realise sending me in to fight will be a last resort because of my reactions to violence, but that doesn’t excuse me from supporting the necessary conflicts in our lives. That means you may see me sharing things on Facebook (other social media are available 😉 ), I give money to The Bail Project , rape crisis centres, homeless charities, and others. It’s not constant or consistent, but there are times I am called to support a specific charity by a direct intervention by a deity/saint or by something in the news. I use Kiva to support women in other parts of the world develop businesses or education routes – things that will better their lives and the lives of their families. My mother told me when I was younger that education women, allowing women to earn money means that money will be reinvested in their families and communities – something I have since seen proven by various studies. There is also an element here of supporting areas that have been forcibly converted to Christianity, as a sort of paying back for the injustices and wrongs done by my spiritual ancestors. And yeah, anything on Kiva for me goes to women. Other choices are definitely available! (Although I should note, I’ve not seen nonbinary options here, if someone has, please let me know – I think I auto-choose women at this point because the link is in my browser history)

Supporting the poor and in need is a fundamental requirement in Catholicism, although I don’t subscribe to the Church’s view that there are worthy and unworthy poor – if someone is hungry, feed them; homeless, house them; unclothed, clothe them… It seems pretty simple to me, came straight from Jesus. And yet, the Church has used poverty and hunger to force conversions and/or adherence to strict moral codes it doesn’t always follow itself (other Christian Churches do this as well, just fyi, but it’s Catholicism I’m focusing on here). Anyone who has taken any of my classes will have heard of Brig Ambue, Brig of the Cowless, so there is a vital interest there for Brigid in the poor and the hungry as well.

I also devote time to learning – both Irish history, Irish language and Catholic history. And not just the highlights – yeah, most people in Ireland can tell you bits and bobs of varying degrees of accuracy on An Gorta Mór (the Great Famine, officially 1845 – 1949, but starvation prevailed in the country for a few years after that as well). We also lost between 135 and 20% of our population in the 1740-1741 famine. There’s an entire book from Cork University Press devoted to the subject – and yes, that book is winging it’s way towards me now after reading about it in detail…. possibly along with a few more…. And it’s important to realise that there is more to the history of Ireland than English/British colonisation. We covered a lot of stuff in school of course, one of the reasons Red Hugh O’Donnell (Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill) is a hero of mine, from the story of him escaping from Dublin Castle, in the snow, wearing only his nightshirt and then legging back up to Donegal. You have to understand, when I was growing up, even driving to Donegal took about 6-8hrs, depending on whether we needed to avoid going through the North or not, so imagining someone setting off on foot really tickled my imagination. But of course, there’s more to the story than is told to 11yr olds in school and this is where the learning comes in. For me, understanding where my nation and the Catholic church came from is important in understanding how things came about the way they are today. There have been many mistakes made in both areas, and if we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past, we repeat them.

My husband has recently started a practice of feeding the rabbits and birds in our vicinity – well not directly, but any scraps of food he thinks will help them is going in specific places around the house – outside, I mean, now, not inside. We don’t invite crows and rabbits inside the house. I mean, they have been known to try and get in anyway, but I have a reasonably strict “no wild animals in the house” rule. It gives us both great pleasure to look at the animals, the birds, crows in particular in our house, and rabbits move about and aren’t in any way tamed by this by the way, but it’s supporting our local wildlife. Now, there’s always a danger of rats, who can and do get in houses, but the food locations are away from the house and well, rats serve their purpose too in this world. (No, I can’t think what it is off the top of my head, but I’m sure they have one. Everyone having a purpose in the world is probably a Catholic idea, but it’s there in the Irish lore as well…) Now on the one hand, this is a practical use of our compost heap for later use in fertilisation. But it’s also a way of supporting wildlife without making them dependent on us. And if you said to him this was a spiritual practice, he’d be confused at best. Allowing space for the wild things is important!!

I don’t subscribe to the Christian view of “my body is a temple” thing (although most people I’ve heard say that aren’t what I would consider Christians either…) but I do believe in taking care of and developing the gifts that the G/gods give us. This can be tied into my scholastic work, my teaching, my job, but also the physical body I have. I spent years living through eating disorders, abuse, generally pretending any pain signals my body were sending me were fake or non existent. It’s left me with long term issues, I now have to deal with. But I can do this. So this looks like doing my physio exercises daily or nearly daily. It means eating a mostly balanced diet and paying attention when my body tells me something isn’t working. It means making sure I get enough sleep and water. It means constantly and consistently looking at what’s working, what isn’t and what needs to change. Right now, I’m limited in the movement I can do – an ingrown toe nail (that has grown back FIVE TIMES at this point!) is being sorted out (nail bed excised) on 12th July and I can’t wait cos right now, I can’t walk properly at all. By this I mean, I’m trying to walk without putting any weight on that big toe, which is causing my knees, hips and back to struggle and inflicting a lot of pain on me. Add to that the jumping about every time anything even touches the bloody toe, which further causes pain and it’s a recipe for disaster. But I have an goal for myself to be able to walk 4 miles in an hour without pain by the end of the year, which means once the toe is healing, I have a plan for re-learning to walk. And ok, the Catholic platitudes of “offering up pain for the holy souls in Purgatory” may not suit everyone, but it’s nice to think of my pain causing someone else some good…. So the pain can go to the holy souls and the walking is part of my deal with the deities/saints to look after the physical body. This paragraph more than any other might outline my approach to mixed spirituality….

So there you go. I’m more than 2500 words in here, so I’ll leave it here for today. Any questions or further requests – hit the comments!

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