Morality

Or rather, the discussion of right and wrong. I had the misfortune to go down a rabbit hole of some very right wing Catholic blogs earlier today and it got me thinking of morality and the notion of an absolute value of “right and wrong”.

I know, deep thoughts of a Monday morning. I blame my weekend…

What shocked me was that these discussions (no, I won’t link them because I don’t want to drive traffic to their sites in any way!) seem to look at a very black and white view of morality. Almost, if not actually, fundamentalist in nature. Now, I know, we get fundamentalist Christians the same as any other flavour of religion, but the standing joke when I was growing up was the closest thing to a fundamentalist Catholic was the auld grannies saying their rosaries before, during and after Mass on a Sunday. We were wrong. Very, very wrong.

There are such things as fundamentalist Catholics and their views on the world are very strict, rigid and controlling. I found it shocking, really, some of the views expressed in these blogs. It’s worse than Ireland in the 50’s. And it brings me back to a line in a Mercedes Lackey book, about a religion changing when priests view their congregations as sheep and start offering answers to everything rather than allowing and assisting people to follow their own questions to the answers that make sense for them. I think this has happened in the Catholic Church definitely. If you look at the early church, there’s a lot of focus on self development, learning for yourself what makes sense and what doesn’t, defining good, bad, right wrong, etc, in the context of your own life.

That’s disappeared by the time we come to the Medieval Church. It’s all about rigid, dogmatic viewpoints, with exceptions for the rich. And I sense the same thought process in some of these blogs I ended up reading earlier. Take any topic in the world and there’s rarely a harsh, definitive, yes/no answer: is violence wrong? Well yes, but what if it’s in defence? What if it’s preventing a greater violence? The ways of life are not black and white, but varying shades of grey for the most part.

There are specific events we can decry and condemn – the Holocaust, mass shootings, incarceration of innocents… but these are specific events. Is there a time I could rationalise a mass shooting as the lesser of two evils? Not off the top of my head, but “never” is a long time to commit to.

Where does this leave us? Well, we can learn the lessons we can from our writings, from our lore, from our modern lives. We can look at what looks right to us, learn from other people’s perspectives, accept we’re not always going to get it right, whether “it” is a singular action or a broader based attitude. We all mess up. We all do things that we think is the right thing but later find out is not. This is human. Learn from it, make amends where possible and move on. Do better next time.

Rigid rules are too inflexible for humans. Declaring that X is right and Y is wrong – well sure, in that situation, but then the whataboutery starts. For example, I will stand behind a woman’s right (or a man’s right) to choose what happens to their bodies. Consent should be a core tenet of medicine as well as every other aspect of life. But if someone has been in a traffic accident and needs life saving surgery and is unconscious or in a coma – I don’t expect the medical staff to try and wake that person up to gain consent. If there are files available to check specific religious views and preferences, fine, but otherwise, go ahead and save the life.

It’s easier sometimes to depend on rigid rules and limitations of acceptable behaviour. It’s a way to dodge responsibility (“I was following orders”) But it’s not enough. Brigid is a liminal deity after all, she lives in the grey, the less definite, the amorphous areas of life, she won’t lay down the law for us in that way. So we have to figure this stuff out for ourselves. There are some things we can follow fairly easily: we can’t give money to every charity, but we can choose where we give money, spend money, etc. We can decide on the things that are important to us – for example, it will surprise no one reading this that I actively work towards getting more woman into engineering positions and jobs. It’s something I feel evangelical about and consider really important. Is it more important that homelessness or poverty or any of the other myriad of social issues plaguing Ireland today? Hell no. But it’s what I’m choosing to work on.

And in saying “yes” to that, I’m saying “no” to other things. I’m ok with this, now. There was a time when I thought I had to support everything but really, I can’t do that. It’s simple. We make choices. Sometimes the choices are the right ones, sometimes they’re not, but they’re ours to make.

So, when someone starts on about morality, have a think about what they mean, where they’re coming from and how they build their morality for themselves. See if their ideas agree with yours and if yours need changing or adaptation on the basis of new information and experiences. And remember, we live in the grey, always the grey.

Showing up

I spent last night at home (in the homeplace, with my parents). This is great, for all sorts of reasons – Ma’s cooking not the least of them- but it also got me thinking. As I’m sure ye expected seeing as how I’m writing about it.

I found myself getting really irritated last night. At first I thought it was because I was reading a book, while they were watching telly, but they kept pausing the telly to talk to me. Then I thought it was because of all the comments on how I looked “frowny” (don’t ask!!) Then I thought maybe I was too hot, cos they tend to keep the place good and warm (well Dad is 83 now, so it’s expected).

But as I woke up this morning, I thought of something I cover in the Preparation for Imbolc course (registration is closed, but you can register your interest for next year here) – being in tune with your body. And I started thinking – I was very much out of my usual routine. Normally, my evenings are quiet, with myself and himself at home, and usually he knows I need to not talk for a bit. My parents on the other hand, don’t see me every day, so when I do see them, they want to talk about anything and everything.

So I instead of my usual quiet, peaceful evening, I had an evening punctuated by questions. Lots and lots of questions. What are you reading? Are you too hot (yes!!) Will I put more logs on the fire? (please don’t!) Are you tired? (Yes) Do you want a cuppa? (No, thanks) What time do you go to bed? (9:30) Are you going soon so? (in 10 mins) Do you remember these doctors? (M*A*S*H*, just FYI) and more and more and more

I’m not used to being questioned like this – and it’s their way of making conversation and keeping in tune with my life. But I still took myself off to bed possibly slightly earlier than I had planned. Because I needed to rest my brain. And this morning it occurred to me that usually, by 8:30, myself and the husband are sitting by the couch in companionable silence, punctuated by brief comments on whatever we’re watching on the telly. I don’t have to think. I can relax, knowing if I don’t answer him, he’ll poke me or say whatever it is again or generally just take it as I didn’t hear him, not as me sulking or not talking or whatever. But my parents usually see me at times when I can stay up late, or I’ve geared myself up for a long conversation, or otherwise prepared.

Yesterday, I had a long day in work and a longer drive afterwards, plus I ate dinner a good hour later than usual, so I was hungry and tired. I wasn’t myself. Or at least not the self that they’re used to seeing these days.

Now, what has this to do with Brigid? Well, here’s the thing. My Dad still got up this morning to make sure the alarm was turned off well before I woke up. He’s just made me a nice cup of coffee to start off my day and he’s going about his business around me as I get started for my day here. There’s no judgement – he knows I was tired last night and he knows I always think the house is too hot and he knows I laugh at them worrying about me being too cold etc in the bed. These are all long standing, loving conversations/ debates we have. And he still loves me, in spite of the differences between us.

We don’t always have to show up perfectly to Brigid either. I’m not saying I believe in unconditional love mind you, but I think my parents accept most of what I am (they really don’t understand the lack of a sport interest, but after 4 decades, they’re getting used to it!) They know that last night I really was tired, out of my usual routine, etc, etc, etc. They also know that all the questions drive me cracked. (Again doesn’t stop them asking, because they are genuinely interested, but, you know, this love thing works both ways!)

I often hear/read people talking about the efforts they go to, to show up for their deity. They dress up, they prepare, they make the effort. And don’t get me wrong – this is great. But when we’re talking about a daily practice, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you show up in your jammies. Or sometimes you show up tired, hungry, sore, grumpy. Or sometimes, you show up and all you can do is sit there because all you have is the energy to show up, nothing else. This is all ok. You don’t need 4 decades of a relationship with someone to start to recognise their energy levels or when something is wrong. OK, sometimes Brigid needs to be reminded we’re human and not inanimate tools, but she’ll recognise this – that we’re not on top form.

Sometimes it will make a difference to what she asks, or when she asks it, sometimes it won’t. And again, that’s ok. Sometimes we’re tired, hungry, lost, and we need a kick up the bum. Sometimes we need rest. Sometimes we can afford to take that rest, sometimes we can’t. This is all life and it’s not perfect.

So, I suppose, here’s what I’m saying. There’s a saying here in Ireland that home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in. My parents will always take me in… and so will Brigid. If I have faith in nothing else, I can have faith in that. Maybe you don’t have that. I know I am very lucky with the parents I have, however irritating at times they can be. They love me, want the best for me, care for me, support me… not everyone is so lucky. I’m also lucky in the husband I have, for many of the same reasons. I have two places in this land that if I show up, I will be able to enter the home. And I have my home in Brigid as well – although that’s not so much she must take me in, as she will take me in.

I can rest in her when I choose. My showing up on a daily basis is sometimes as basic as a few deep breaths or taking a few seconds to recognise her in my life. Sometimes it’s launching a massive three month course at short notice, or a 30 day course at even shorter notice! Levels of “showing up” exist…

So here’s what I’m saying. Our deities know, deep down, they really do know, that we’re human. We’re not machines. (Although as an engineer, machines can be temperamental as well sometimes!) You can show up dirty. You can show up tired. You can show up hungry. You can show up grumpy. You can show up wishing desperately you could be doing anything else at all. The important thing is to show up. The important thing is to even show up long enough to say “I can’t show up today”. I know it sounds daft, but really – it’s not.

Communication is as important in deity relationships as in human relationships. Your deity knows you can be tired, hungry, out of sorts etc. Still, take the 30seconds to show up. Consistently showing up is more important than showing up looking glam or energetic or anything. Consistently showing up is the basis of any relationship and deity is no different.

And now, the parents are both up so I’m off to enjoy my morning porridge with fresh fruit – fancier than normal – and maintaining that relationship for a while longer!! And remember – show up. Regardless of how you look or feel. She won’t mind.

We don’t always have the choice

I met a friend for brunch this morning at 11 in Tramore and four hours later was going to the sea to wash my hands in the water – I didn’t want to wash my feet, cos I was wearing tights and they’re a pain to put back on wet feet… The sea, or Someone connected with the sea, had different ideas. Now to be fair, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I was only soaked ankle deep. But I was still wet – my tights, my runners (which I had planned to wear to work tomorrow) my feet, were all wet and all the hot air in the world in the car on the way home wouldn’t dry them.

Image of my wet foot, in black Sketchers runners, leg covered by black skirt with with patterns of moon, sun and stars on it, tarmac covered in sand in the background.

Now, when I go to the sea, I generally wash my feet. It’s not something I ever thought was a requirement, although sometimes it is, but usually, I can figure out when it is and isn’t a requirement. But today, I was given no choice or hint at all that my feet were getting wet regardless of how I felt about the matter. It happens this way sometimes with deity and to be fair, wet feet aren’t the end of the world though. (Just don’t tell my Ma, ok? She’s spent the last week trying to cure me of a bad cough so getting wet feet, if she finds out, could lead to a wooden spoon situation…)

It’s not the end of the world. I live in the modern world, I got dry as soon as I got home, it’s unlikely I’ll have lasting effects from my unexpected washing. And, to be fair, it could be a joke on her part as well, to have my feet washed it whether I willed it or no. There might be nothing there at all other than herself having bit of a laugh with me. I’m sure she enjoyed it!

But sometimes the things we have no choice over have higher consequences. Obeying the rules of the road for example – not obeying them leads to consequences, even if it’s “just” a fine or a few points on the license. Obeying rules in work means we get to keep out jobs. Now some rules in work I take more seriously than others. Safety rules make sense to me – most of the time – so following those rules are almost second nature to me. Some rules, like clocking in and out on time, make sense from a business sense to make sure you’re giving the hours to the company you’ve agreed to (even if giving them hours doesn’t always mean giving them work, time is one thing it’s easy enough to track). Other rules, like some I have seen regarding dress codes in some places, mean I will never work for those places. High heels are not for work, in my opinion and definitely not for 40+ hours a week! And yet, there are still people who think dress codes that include heel heights are ok (yes the link is from 2017, but that was only 5yrs ago!!) So there are rules I’d view as reasons not to work somewhere, but I’m lucky to have that choice. Many people don’t.

In school, on the roads, in life, in work – there are always choices we make that then limit our further choices from that point forward. So, by working in a medtech company, I follow rules regarding designated attire in production areas and personal hygiene. When I worked in a steel company, I followed rules about wearing some (very uncomfortable at times) personal protective equipment. I choose not to go into consultancy at this time because I don’t have the patience for the image control required there. Not everyone has the choice. To me, if you have a choice between taking a job that forces you to dress a certain way or starving/ being homeless/ all the other bad things that happen when you have no money and no social welfare net… that’s really no choice at all in my opinion.

And sometimes it happens that way in spiritual life as well. We always have the choice to say no, or to not doing something a deity asks us to do. Or we may consider a request to be less important than a different request, but our deity doesn’t think the same. If we say no or choose to go a different way than our deity suggested, there may be consequences for that. We may ask for help, and our deity gives us the help we ask for but with consequences we didn’t expect. Sometimes we don’t have the choice. Sometimes we technically have a choice, but the other option is so bad that we don’t consider it a choice at all.

And sometimes our deity takes the choice out of our hands altogether! And puts it in our feet. I wish I could do a proper side eye emoji on WordPress! So, I suppose what I’m saying is, I’m using a fairly light hearted example here – no major consequences for me today, but if Brigid or indeed any deity, is asking you to do something and you really don’t want to do it – ask what the other options are and any of those are more acceptable or less abhorrent to you. Yes, it is possible to say no to deity. I’m not saying there will always be consequences, but it’s good to know what you’re getting into whether you agree or disagree with any ask or request. If something is non-negotiable… well there’s always options. They may not be options you like, but there’s always options!!

The things we love

This is Bruno. Bruno is 42 this Christmas- yes I got him from my aunt on my first Christmas. He’s named after the dog my grandparents had when I was growing up, a sheepdog who was so well trained to look after me that, even at the age of 16 when he could barely walk, he’d get himself between me & the door until Grandad told him it was OK for me to go out.

But back to the teddy, Bruno. Bruno has just had his sewing & washing session. There are parts of Bruno that are now more thread than teddy, so I’m thinking I may have to get some teddy material and do some more intensive repairs soon. As for washing… I can’t remember the last time I washed Bruno. To be fair, I don’t tend to cry, throw up, wee on him as much as I used to either!

Because yes, growing up, Bruno (and Big Ted to be fair, but there’s no way Big Ted would fit in the washing machine) was my confidante. He was clutched while I cried, while I was sick, while I was angry, while I was lonely, while I was happy… he has slept with me the vast majority of the nights I’ve been alive, yes, even now. My husband is a wonderful man in many ways and realised fairly quickly in our relationship that he either put up with Bruno or there wouldn’t be a relationship.

Why am I making a big deal of this? Well 1) Bruno’s just been washed so he won’t be in my ned for a few nights til he dries out (yup timed for when I’ll be distracted with my spa trip) and 2) I was thinking of the care and attention we give to inanimate objects* compared to the care and attention we give to ourselves. Self care is something we talk about a lot in the modern world, but it’s mostly about bubble baths, or face masks or things. We don’t usually talk about the fundamentals.

And yes, this is linked to my preparation for Imbolc. Aside from the more esoteric stuff, I’m also looking at the absolute basics. Sleep is usually #1 to check in with. Am I feeling rested or tired in the morning? Am I feeling like caffeine is an essential vitamin or something pleasant to drink? Am I depending on chocolate or other foods to “get me through the day”? None of the above is evil & wrong of course, but I also know there will be a lot of social engagements in the coming months and having a good foundation of sleep will help immensely.

Sometimes this means giving the bedroom a good deep clean & tidy out. Sometimes it means investing in some nice candles. Sometimes it means new jammies. Sometimes it means stocking up on bedtime tea. Sometimes it means changing nothing at all. But it’s good to give it a think.

And it’s entirely possible you have a think and say, yup, I’m happy with my sleeping habits. It’s possible you’re reading this thinking, yes, I’d feckin love more sleep but where do I fit it in?? It doesn’t have to be sleep, sleep is just where I start. But start thinking of how you treat a precious object or a small child.

In particular with small children, we’re careful they have enough sleep eat at regular intervals, eat food that supports them and they enjoy, have comfy clothes suitable for their activities… now how often do you look at yourself that way? How often do you think to plan out quiet time for yourself? How often do you put yourself last so that you’re running on dregs?

We can’t all suddenly change our lives overnight of course to put ourselves first all the time and turn into magical people who have it together all the time! But even thinking about it is hard sometimes. So, take a few mins, or 30 seconds if that’s what you’ve got, and think of something you can do to put in supports to yourself? Even if that’s a comment on here asking if I’m completely out of my mind, a vent in an email to me, a chat with a friend. Because if I spent 2 hrs this morning sewing up my teddy, I could surely spend 10mins putting together a breakfast for myself right?

* just a note, Bruno is obviously not an inanimate object. Just like all teddies, he’s a wonderful confidante, great friend, supportive counselor. And a brilliant pillow when needed as well.

Would it surprise you to know…

… that my preparation for Imbolc begins in earnest on Tuesday with a trip to a spa for a couple of nights? Why? Well the first phase of my preparation framework is physically focused and the first phase of that for me is my body. My body is not quite in rack and ruin right now, but it’s feeling fairly beat up – 2+ months of an ear infection, a chest infection, lingering cough… there’s been a lot going on, and my body needs some downtime.

Now this trip has been planned for about six months, I’m going away with my Mam and combining my own need for luxury and pampering with her birthday, Christmas and Mother’s Day presents. Well, I couldn’t expect her to go alone right? We’re off to Monart which is yes, expensive, but also, very much worth it to me and I’ve been saving up so I can relax and not think about the money while we’re there. I fully intend spending the three days in my swimming togs and robe and slippers, with lots of steaming, saunaing, infra-red-heating, hot pool bathing… I can’t wait.

See, preparation for a ritual usually involves deprivation and restraint – but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes we need this pampering. Sometimes we need the luxury. Now, I can’t always afford to go on a fantastic trip like this, but then, if I couldn’t do the spa thing, a fancy bath at home would be taking centre stage. (To be clear, a fancy bath at home will be happening several times over the coming months as I prepare for Imbolc, as well!) I have stocked up on bath bombs and candles and bubbles etc. And I can transform my usually pedestrian bathroom into a lovely candlelit paradise as well to help with the ambience.

There will be other preparations that are less fun of course. Making sure I can meet my own eyes in the mirror is always a fun exercise, not, but it’s necessary for me to know that I’m on the right path still and doing the right thing. There is rarely a judge as harsh as your own eyes, in my experience. Other people make excuses or take into account what they see an extenuating circumstances – our own eyes don’t though. It’s not that I expect to find I’ve done something majorly wrong – I’ve not killed anyone, stolen, hurt anyone that I know of, so the major stuff is out, but I may find thoughts coming to mind I want to make amends for and get myself back in right relationship with before Imbolc. As an exercise, it’s no harm to do that every now and again.

Because after meeting my own eyes, comes meeting her eyes. And that can be hard as well – especially if I’ve been letting my practices slip and need to make up some ground. Or if I’ve been steadfastly ignoring her increasingly unsubtle hints about something. And getting that back on plan or having a straight conversation about whether or not I’ll be doing something is important to have out before Imbolc as well.

For the next three months, I’ll be working my way through my preparations for Imbolc and some of the prep is the wonderfully luxurious treatments I’ll be undergoing next week and some of the prep is scrubbing the desk I’ll be using as part of my ritual. Some of it is exciting and wonderful and cool, and frankly, some of it is drudgery. But I know I will arrive at Imbolc with a clean slate and prepared for a ritual that suits me, my resources and my needs this year.

it will be an exciting three months, and if you’d like to join me on the journey, you can sign up here. It will be a small group though, so sign up quickly before all the places are filled! The course includes the practical exercises that I go through, and the development of those exercises over the three months. Each month, there’s 2 sessions – the first where I’m outlining the background, the thinking and the exercises, and the second session is where you get to ask or discuss anything that comes up for you when you try them out. And of course, email support as you need it through the three months. I hope to see you there!

It’s a filthy day out…

This is not an unusual comment in Ireland at this time of year. It refers to a very specific kind of rain, where the day is dark, the lights and the fires and the heating goes on pretty much as soon as we get up in the morning and stay on all day. You can’t leave the house without getting soaked to the skin, and yes, you get covered in muck, if you go anywhere on foot or by bike… even by public transport. These are the days when we all end up with sniffles, or colds, or flus, when the Lemsips and the hot whiskeys come out. These are the days when really, there’s nothing better than being the second one home in the evening so that someone else has lit the fire and it’s blazing away in the hearth when you come in.

It’s the kind of day when the rain just comes down, relentlessly, all day. (While we do tend to get rain 365.5 days a year, it doesn’t usually rain all day every day!) And while I know new houses in this country and being built with no fireplaces, I can’t imagine ever living in a house without a fireplace or a stove or something. That feeling of a fire being lit in winter brings with it comfort as well as heat – it’s no wonder our major festivals are called the “fire festivals”. No more than most other societies in the world, we have learned to live with our climate in this country, which means houses built to keep in the heat, plenty of light, and real fires.

But the thing is, our climate is changing. And our houses need to change with it, to a certain extent. Temperatures of 30oC+ are not usual in this country, but we’re getting them more often. The use of air con in this country is limited at best, but I find myself thinking of trying to pick up a unit over the winter in hopes it might be a bit cheaper than in the summer. But fires are as much a part of our Bealtaine and Lúnasa celebrations as they are our Samhain and Imbolc celebrations. And that might be because even in May and August, the evenings can get fairly cool in Ireland traditionally speaking. Of course, no one was determining how big a fire had to be either, but one would assume giving the term “bonfire” would give a certain size element…

But where do we go in a changing world? Even lighting a fire these days can be problematic, since most of our fires require some element of fossil fuels. Do we change our traditions to better align with current practicalities? Well yes, we do. We keep the heart of the tradition, the bit that’s important and we work with the modern practicalities. So, for example, my fire festivals move to the closest weekend to the calendar date most of the time, although at least all four fire festivals now have a bank holiday associated with them! (Despite complaints from people about another holiday in Ireland being linked to a religious holiday, but I think there’s been some education around that as well.) So, even within our own personal practices, we adapt and change things to suit our lives.

When does this become a problem? Well, when someone presents something as “traditional” when it’s really not. So for example, someone claiming that their practice of always lighting a red candle at Imbolc (I’m making this up!!) is a long held, deeply rooted tradition in Ireland, when we know most of the candles in Ireland were natural coloured, cos dyed ones were more expensive – that’s a problem. Someone “suggesting” something by adding in a maybe, as in “maybe since the times of the Tuatha De Danann”, that’s an issue, since we really don’t know what day to day practices the TDD had in their spiritual lives, neither our stories, nor our archaeology can tell us that.

It’s important to know what the traditions are, in my opinion so you can work out how to make them work for you. And as long as we’re all clear on the difference between a tradition (light a fire on Imbolc) and a personal tradition (my habit of celebrating on the weekend closest to the festival), we’re all ok. So you can check out my free class on Basic Intro to Imbolc in Ireland this Wednesday, to get a high level reminder of the traditions in Ireland and a sneak peek at the framework I use to prepare for the Imbolc festival. Or indeed, check out duchas.ie to see those wonderful entries from the Schools Collection. Or check out Lora O’Brien’s and other classes at the Irish Pagan School. But remember, fires were and are an important part of Irish society for a reason – and if you live in a place where wild fires are a significant risk, don’t. Try a candle, or an electrical option. Change the tradition to suit your circumstances, and make sure you understand the heart of the tradition. For me – I’m in work, so no open fires here, but I’m off to get a nice cup of coffee to warm myself up! (For some reason, they won’t allow hot whiskeys in work!!)

Free class!

Last night I took a notion and decided that next Wednesday (9th November, 7pm Irish time) I’ll put on a free class to give a brief (well, brief for me…) overview of Irish traditions around Imbolc. Every year, come January, people start worrying over Imbolc – and I understand, I really do. The period between Samhain and Imbolc is full of various winter celebrations, all over the Northern Hemisphere, or at least the bits that have 4+ seasons.

In the dark of the winter, we turn to community, celebrations, lights, candles, food, drink, stories, to carry us through the dark times of the year. This is the time of year when those of us who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) have to concentrate a bit more on our mental health, getting light where and when we can (my use of fairy lights and candles dramatically sky rockets from about this point on!) It’s dark and it’s miserable, the weather is crap – especially in Ireland where the rain shows the incredible talent of being cold enough for snow but never quite making the transition…

So filling up the time with celebrations makes sense. The only thing is that Imbolc, coming as it does at the end of winter, start of spring (spring starts in Ireland on 1st February, remember, regardless of weather conditions), can creep up on us very easily as we’re lying around in January, metaphorically speaking, trying to recover from all the celebrating and swearing high up and low down that next year will be different…

So I’m putting together this class now, so people can have it in their heads and include Imbolc in their winter planning. I have started my planning and preparation already for Imbolc, from checking out where the rushes are growing, where the paths have changed, so last year’s access point might not be as safe this year, planning my time in January so I have energy to do what I want to do… this is a hugely important celebration to me, so I take the time to plan it – and yes, the planning and preparation does take the 3 months from Samhain!

The class includes an overview of the Irish traditions, and – possibly more importantly, some ideas for making sure of your prosperity for the coming year! This class will only be available to those who sign up in advance, but the recording will be available if you can’t make it live. Sign up here. Hope to see you there!

EDIT: I screwed up. I’ll be emailing people about this as well, but here we go. I called the class “Imbolc in Ireland” completely forgetting that the amazing Lora O’Brien has a class of the same name over at the Irish Pagan School. So, I’ve changed the name of my class to Basic Introduction to Imbolc in Ireland, because that’s what it is -shorter, higher level overview with a quick intro to my own framework for preparing for the Imbolc festivities!

Samhain & cycles

Today is the 31st October, Halloween, Samhain. OK, so Samhain can be considered more of a season than a day, but as we all know, in modern life (as in all time periods in history), unless you’re very privileged, it’s difficult to allow spiritual practice centre stage in life all the time.

In my own case, right now, I’m writing this on my phone, while snuggled up on the couch, looking at the Level Orange Rain Warning through the window, with a hot water bottle on one ear & some chappy Netflix romcom on in the background. Yup, that lurgy I mentioned last week still isn’t shaking, despite a week in bed! But it means that my Samhain observances will be limited this year to an extra place set at the table tonight and walking the bounds & grounds at some point in the next week when the rain lets up a bit. I mean, it’ll be November in Ireland – hoping for a fully dry day might get pushing it a bit!

But also, once my Samhain activities are over, I start preparing for Imbolc. Last year, I ran a course that people seemed to really enjoy, called Preparation for Imbolc. I’ll be running the same course again this year (if you want to sign up for more info on that, please click here) It’s an almost three month course taking you through my framework for preparing for Imbolc, through the physical, emotional and magical realms. Maybe realms isn’t the right word there… but areas just doesn’t sound as grand does it?

So, today, I’m sitting down with my planning (Bank Holiday here in Ireland) and working out what needs to be done in the next three or so months. Cos it’s a busy season – Samhain probably heralds one of my busiest seasons in the year, in direct contrast to that of agricultural folk. But here we go – there are observations I do around November in relation to ancestor work and the Catholic stuff. December is solstice and Christmas of course. January is the final run in to Imbolc, so things get even more intense then as well.

Just to be clear, this isn’t me moaning by the way. Being in tune with the cycles of the year, however that looks for me and acknowledging that I have a busy season coming up, means I’m aware of what’s coming, all of the above is voluntary and by planning I can fit it into my life sensibly, instead of running myself into the ground by trying to get everything done at the last minute. And while Samhain is a major festival, it’s also the signal to start getting things in order for the next three months as well.

So, wishing people a happy Samhain always seems a bit strange to me, but I hope you get to celebrate or acknowledge the season in a way that’s meaningful to you and that everything you want to do works out well. If you have to cut your cloth a bit, as I’m doing this year, focus on what’s truly important to you. For me – spare plate at the dinner, walking the bounds and grounds, bit of divination, visiting a graveyard and remembering my loved ones who are dead during November. Short post today, but given I can’t move off the couch yet and feel like crap still, I don’t think I did too badly, did I? All prayers and well wishes for helping shake off this bloody thing are welcome!

Conversations with the Dagda

For any of you who make a habit of reading the Dagda Bard blog by Jon O’Sullivan (and really, why wouldn’t you, he’s great!), the following post may seem familiar in style. It is – Jon often uses his conversations with the Dagda to explore themes, issues etc but this is the first time I’ve done so here. I’ve used fiction – but this isn’t fiction exactly. Think of it as me interpreting an experience I had over the weekend with the Dagda.

As I stood in circle, listening to the woman in charge calling in the quarters, making a decent attempt at it as well, I felt the Big Man settle in beside me.

“What’s all this then?” he muttered, much in the manner of an old friend catching up with the news at a funeral.

“Cacao ceremony” I replied, a bit nervously to be honest. I was reasonably sure the woman was doing this ethically, but sometimes his notions of ethics and mine are different. I felt him shaking with a fit of the giggles as she called in the Dagda, Father Sky.

“Father of many and now Father Sky as well? Isn’t that some responsibility I have now. “

He queued up behind me with a massive mug to grab some cacao anyway, after we sat through the explanation. I look at it in askance, I tell you, seeing as how the woman was measuring out every drop like a pub landlord. He winked and shrugged and sure enough, got his mug filled to the brim. Mind you, I’m almost certain I got a bit extra as well.

And then we sat, and sipped the drink in a companionable silence. I started the talking then.

“I think it’s ethical. She trained with them.”

“She did indeed,” he agreed. ” And sources it direct from the growers as well, helping their local economy”.

“And she’s trying to honour the locals here as well, using her bit of Gaeilge.”

“She did. I can’t wait to tell Manannán he’s now a goddess though!” He smirked. “Goddess of the sea, indeed.”

“Well, she’s trying at least and this stuff appeals more to women for some reason. “

“There’s 3 men here besides myself, y’know.”

“Yes, and 17 women to counterbalance them?”

“Fair point. Still, worse things to be doing on a Saturday night, sipping hot chocolate with friends and getting ready to dance.”

I started getting nervous. The Dagda dances like no one I’ve seen, but I’ve always seen him dancing with partners. This was solo ecstatic dance…

“Oh I know that right enough,” he said, giving me an image of himself and Brigid at a wedding, whirling away. “And I much prefer dancing with a partner, although usually not my daughter. Still it was her wedding… And I’ll do well enough here, you’ll see!”

I mean, he’s a deity, I prefer to keep my arguments to the really important stuff. Like exactly how much space he gets in my house.

“Ah sure, I have the small statue now and Brigid loans me some space when I need it.”

Bloody deities, reading our minds when it suits.

“Only when you broadcast your feelings on the matter so widely.”

I started focusing on the upcoming dance, and getting my body in the mood for the movement. We stood beside each other, me easing out my joints, flexing my limbs, getting ready to move; him a bit more solitary.

“It’s not like dance in and of itself is appropriation you know. Nor is trying new food from far off places.” He started.

“No, but we’re talking about the Cacao Goddess and the heart opening that follows.”

“True enough, true enough. Do you believe in the Cacao Goddess?”

“I’m a bit worried she’s a bit like the Irish Potato Goddess!”

He laughed at me, “Oh that’s a good one alright! Well I suppose when three quarters of the country was scrabbling in the ground for any remnant of a spud, while the ships were leaving the ports straining at the seams with food, it might seem like there was a religious element to it, alright.”

The music started and we both started to move. And he is a beautiful sight to behold when he dances. I couldn’t believe no one else noticed, as I plodded alongside him.

“Oh now this is the stuff” he yells as the drums kicked in and the beat got stronger, and it’s at this point the music took over and my body stopped thinking and started moving. I let myself fall into the beat and the rhythm, and just move. It was a joyous and happy movement, pain free for the first time in years, eyes closed, hands and feet tapping out the best and muscles moving in time. My body dripped in sweat, sometimes in time with himself, sometimes away in my own journey. Hair was flung, by both of us!

And as the music faded, he came to sit beside me again.

“Y’see, you need to think of it the other way around. If this was being run on another continent, by a teacher who had trained or learned from Irish people, was supporting Irish people by donating money, or buying authentic Irish goods, herbs, and the like, in their ceremony, would you consider that appropriation?”

“Well, when you put it that way…”

“Life doesn’t always have to be hard y’know. Sometimes, you can sit back, look at the stars, and just enjoy it.”

And somehow, while the meditation went on around us, we were really sitting on a grassy hill, watching the stars, in a companionable silence.

Our historical documents

A picture of one of the earliest known copies of Seathrún Céitinn’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, from Irish Script on Screen

I get shivers down my spine looking at images like this. I’m unlikely to be ever in a position to touch a document that’s almost 400 years old, but even seeing it on the screen is amazing. Now this isn’t the copy that Céitinn wrote himself, but it is dated from 1641 – 1646 from dates in the manuscript (thank you, Royal Irish Academy!!) And it shows the text was popular straight away, being copied so soon after Céitinn’s 1634 (ish) original.

Why am I looking at it? Well, one of Céitinn’s major sources for his work was the good old Lebor Gabála Érenn, which I’ve been doing a lot of reading about. And yes, they have copies of some of the books that contain the LGe as well – see the image below from the Book of Fermoy.

Image from Irish Script on Screen of one of the first pages from the Book of Fermoy, which contains part of the LGE

The earliest part of the Book of Fermoy? Pages 1-16, the bits with the LGE in it, date from the 14th century. That’s 13XX. 700 years ago! I mean… doesn’t the history of this just hit you sometimes?

OK, the LGE is getting me really excited right now and I’ve gone down So. Many. Rabbitholes!!! But it’s been worth it to look at our cultural and literary heritage. As well the the uses to which that heritage has been put. It’s been used to both support and deny the “Irish are savages” propoganda (Started by Giraldus of Wales, let’s not forget, and no he doesn’t deserve anything more than a Wikipedia entry, not matter how good it is!! Even his Wiki entry says his writings show a “great deal of prejudice against foreign people”) Now Giraldus was writing a 100 years again before Céitinn, but they are writing from two very different view points!

Some of the stories recorded by Céitinn, were used by some of the independence movements in Spain, as well as our own Daniel O’Connell (the Great Orator, not the singer.) There’s been revisionist stuff all over the place as well, with the Tudors using the stories to show their “rights” to Ireland by adding in a new character, to the Scots using the stories and changing a few details about who moved where first… Basically, they’re popular stories with many uses.

But it gives just really excites me to think of these manuscripts, which were written down by professional historians of the time, who passed those skills down through the family, recording the stories and tales and histories and genealogies (sounding like at least a part-successor to the fili of earlier times) continuing the traditions… Yeah I know – I need to get out more!!

Anyway, Céitinn won’t be featuring too much in the upcoming class on Brig in Caith Maigh Tuireadh, although he will be mentioned, which is why I feel alright about gushing about him here. I’m trying to hold myself back on the stuff actually in the class a bit so you won’t be disappointed when you sign up! But isn’t it just amazing? His Foras Feasa ar Érinn is heavily sourced from the LGE, and we can still see original manuscripts of both! And as well – Céitinn was a bit of a best seller of his day, with over 30 manuscripts of his work surviving today, from a time when each copy was copied out by hand…

I’m off to swoon some more over the whole thing…