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!

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.

The Year in Ireland – Kevin Danaher

Image shows the book “The Year in Ireland” by Kevin Danaher

I finally managed to get a copy of this book and I’m so excited by it. I’ve been reading about the hungry month of July, as well as Lúnasa traditions, and I obviously will be reading the rest of the book as well, but it’s just such a lovely book and really easy to read.

I’ve seen copies going for €2-300, which is a bit beyond my price range, even for a book like this, but I found a copy for €59 (including postage) from Carmarthaen Books (well I found them on abebooks.com, which is a great website for finding older books) and it arrived earlier this week and I’m having a great time reading through it.

I know, it’s a short post, but I had to share my excitement with ye all! I love reading the old traditions and then think through how these traditions would/wouldn’t work today. For example, July isn’t really a hungry month anymore for most of Ireland – or at least no more hungry than all the other months of the year. We have a consistent food supply (as long as you have the resources to buy said food, which is not yet, unfortunately, a given) so I never heard of burning the straw from the corn instead of threshing it. We don’t, thankfully, survive on spuds and dairy any more either, so we have options when it comes to food.

But it also got me thinking that the abundance of food we eat tends to lead us to take it for granted, in ways that those who grow their own food and depend on that food can’t. We’ve separated the reality of growing food, whether plant or animal, from the eating of the food. The majority of people wandering around the supermarket on a Thursday night don’t really understand, at a bone deep level, what it takes to grow a calf from birth to death to turn it into meat. Or even to mind the cow so she can produce another calf in time. Or the pain and loss of losing a lamb or ewe at 3am on a wild night (or even at 3pm on a sunny day – the loss is no less, even if the surroundings are marginally more pleasant!) The backbreaking work of weeding a long, long line of spuds, hoping the worm doesn’t come up, or the birds don’t peck the new seedlings or any of the other various means by which a crop can be ruined or less than it should be.

And it got me thinking as well, that I am able to express preferences in food that my grandparents, or even my parents, were never able to. In the space of a single generation in Ireland we’ve gone from managing food carefully to last the cycle of the year, to food being readily available on supermarket shelves almost always. Our expectations of food are shown in the way we expect formerly exotic foods like tomatoes on a daily basis, with no understanding of the distances the tomato has travelled to get to us, or the energy required in growing it in Ireland. Avocados – once a staple in Mexico, if I understand correctly – is now too expensive for locals to eat, because foreigners, in our supermarkets, are willing to pay well beyond what those locals can pay. I think this would be similar to the spud being too expensive for the Irish to buy – although the price of spuds is rising consistently as well…

And we must remember that the spud isn’t of course native to our land, but it was so easy (relatively speaking) to grow, and you get so much return for your effort (again, relatively speaking) in terms of nutrition and calories, that it was adopted as families grew larger, land lots grew smaller and more was needed from less soil. So what did people eat before the spud? Apparently dairy. A lot of dairy. It’s well worth reading up on, if you get the chance, or I might do another blog post on it, if people are interested, but there are reports that dairy, milk, cream, cheese were hugely important. (Well most of our big sagas are around cattle, so it stands to reason really!) Oats were the usual grain, wheat being a bit difficult to grow in our climate. For fruit and veg: well the national obsession with bacon and cabbage was come by honestly, apparently, for cabbage, parsnip, onion and garlic were common enough, as were berries (seriously, even today, you can get a fair crop of berries around the island from wild sources) Seaweed for those living along the coast, of course, as well as fish from coast and river. So, y’know, actually a fairly comprehensive diet pre-spud.

But I haven’t come to that in Kevin Danaher’s book yet and I think he’s looking at post-spud introduction anyway, so it’s going to be interesting to see how often food is mentioned throughout the book. And even the small bit I’ve read, of the hungry month of July, is enough to have me considering what I eat and how I appreciate it.

St. Brigid’s Well, Liscannor

A picture of the well entrance, white washed stone hut on the left, with a bench outside and 2 potted plants at the entrance, a set of stone steps to the right, with a low wall and hint of tree trunks and greenery. From: http://irelandsholywells.blogspot.com/2014/01/saint-brigids-well-liscannor-county.html

I have often said that there as wells dedicated to Brigid in most counties in Ireland and I’ll stand by that statement (although the paper I discuss below mentions Patrick Logan’s “The Holy Wells of Ireland”, which outlines 15 wells dedicated to St. Brigid in 11 counties. It also mentioned there are probably more undocumented, so my initial thoughts might be still valid…

Some, however, are a bit more famous than others. St Brigid’s Well in Liscannor, Co. Clare is one such. Now my mother grew up not far from the well and she has mentioned in the past the days when the crowds would come to the well, from the Aran Islands and all over Co. Clare (and I’m sure elsewhere as well) but until I was in Clare a few summers ago (thank you COVID), I didn’t realise how big an insitution it was. We had the (mis)fortune of driving by on the Feast of the Assumption (my grandad’s birthday) and getting stuck in the traffic jam. Honestly – it’s a quiet country road usually, but it took us a good hour to go a mile… my own fault really, I should have been paying attention to the date!

A picture from Google Maps, showing green hedges in the front and a glass/plastic enclosed statue of St. Brigid, holding a crozier and book in the middle, with a stone wall and tall trees behind her

Anyway, over the last few days, following on from my delight over the Brigid Shoe Shrine in the last post, I was doing some mooching around academia.edu and came across a wonderful paper called Saint Brigid: Holy Wells, Patterns and Relics by David W. Atherton and Michael Peter Peyton. It explore Peyton’s memories of the regular Pattern or Patron Days at the well, and he maintains there were four times a year when people would visit the well en masse: St. Brigid’s Eve (31st January), the Saturday and Sunday of Crom Dubh (the last Sunday of July and the vigil) and the Feast of the Assumption, as mentioned above is the 15th July. Now at another time I’d like to come back and visit the connection to Crom Dubh, but I’m forcing myself to put that aside for now.

The paper refers to the “Catholic authorities” being concerned about the morality of these gatherings, given that there was drinking and dancing and all sorts of things going on – even, God forbid! “those practices that involve a striving to have children and such, since such practices smack more of superstition than devotion“. Ah yes, the striving to have children and such??? Anyone else wondering what the “and such” entails?? All in all though, as many a good Irish Catholic will tell you, when the priest is warning you off a party, gathering or event, it’s usually a good sign it’ll be worthwhile going! Things had calmed down a bit in the mid-20th century, and I have to say I saw no signs of debauchery of any kind when I was driving by a few years ago, although it was in the middle of the afternoon. Maybe I should have gone back that night…

As well as the commentary on the morals of the gatherings, the paper includes the “rounds” or the practices to go through to gain the saint’s favour or help in your endeavour. Now, they say they got these from Wikipedia, but I can’t find them on there, which is a bit annoying. On the other hand, as far as prayers go, I don’t see any issue with using this one and the rounds are very well described in the paper. I’d suggest reading the paper to get the full extent of the rounds, as they involve the upper and lower sanctuary and are something I will be doing myself when next I’m down there. But I’ll reproduce the prayer here:

Go mbeannaí Íosa duit, a Bhríd Naofa,

Go mbeannaí Muire duit, is go mbeannaím féin duit,

Chugat a thána’ mé ag géarán mo scéil chugat,

Agus d’iarraidh cabhair in onóir Dé ort.

In English, this is: May Jesus bless you, St. Brigid/ Holy Brigid, May Mary bless you and may I myself bless you. It is to yourself I have come, voicing my complaint and asking your help for the honour of God.

Now I can understand that this is a fairly Catholic prayer and sure the well is devoted to St. Brigid these days, so there’s no surprise there, but there are ways to alter it to a more pagan option. I’ve done my best below.

Beannachtaí an lae ort, a Bhríd,

Beannachtaí an oíche ort, is mo bheannchtaí féin ort comh maith.

Chugat a tháinig mé ag géarán mo scéal chugat,

agus d’iarraidh cabhair ort.

In short, this translates as “blessings of the day to you, Brigid, blessings of the night to you and my own blessings as well. It is to yourself I have come, voicing my complaint and asking your help”.

The prayer isn’t necessarily tied to St. Brigid’s Well, Liscannor of course and could be adapted, as could the rite, to any well or water really in my opinion.

Finally, the Irish for well is usually taught these days as tobar, but in the paper, the well in Liscannor is consistently referred to as Dabhach Bhríde. And dabhach has other meanings in Irish as well, which I found interesting: copper, tank, trough, vat. And this had me thinking of the forge again, because coper, tanks, troughs and vat are likely to be found in a forge. PURE UPG alert here, folks, this is my brain rambling and making connections that may or may not be there. But I’d like to think that the well had some connection, at some point to the older versions of Brigid, in her forge, hammering away.

And now, I want to go explore Crom Dubh and see why people would be going to St. Brigid’s well on the Sunday of Crom Dubh, so I’ll leave it there!

Brigid and her Da

Because I’ve been preparing for a Bealtaine ritual and practice class over the last few months, I’ve been working more than usual with the Dagda. I mean, he’s always there in the background anyway, it’s not like he’s not a regular visitor, but I’ve been actively working with him more than usual lately. To the extent that I exclaimed in one of the Brigid in Ireland classes just after Imbolc that I had only Frankincence & Myrrh incense available to me! (For reasons with that, check out the stories about How the Dagda Got his Staff, I think both Jon O’Sullivan and Morgan Daimler have the story on their blogs)

Anyway, as part of the work, I’ve been looking at the relationship between the Dagda and Brigid. And if I’m honest, it bears reflection on the relationship with my own Dad as well. I mean one of the Dagda’s epitaph’s is “Ollathair”, meaning “Father of many” and not “Father of all” as many translate it. That’s Zeus I think? Definitely not Irish anyway!

But the relationship between the Dagda and Brigid is really interesting. She’s one of his offspring that just don’t have a story with him as such, acting in a fatherly way. She’s clearly outlined as the Dagda’s daughter in several places in the lore, but they don’t get a story together really. So what follows here is extrapolated from the lore, but is UPG. Maybe I should put that in big red letters or something?

Anyway, for me, the Dagda comes across as a loving and caring Dad to his offspring. He brings one of the back from the dead, he arranges for another to get the land he wants, paying out of his own land for replacement for the previous occupant, he takes in foster kids, the general impression is a father who loves his kids and will do right by them. Now I don’t get the feeling he’s a complete push over, but I can also see him easily sneaking sweets or a few quid when it’s needed as well as providing the discipline when that’s needed as well.

And he doesn’t claim to be perfect one way or another, which is good. You add that impression to my impressions of Brigid as an independent, stubborn, dedicated deity who does what it takes to get the job done, and you can see where she’d get that work ethic from. The Dagda is good at it, whatever it is, y’see and I can’t imagine him allowing his daughter not to be prepared for anything life might throw at her.

I can easily see them sitting down by the fire, debating freely the topics of the day, or talking through problems, or working out difficulties. I imagine they have similar debates as the ones myself and my own Da have as well – where we know damn well the other one isn’t going to change their mind and the arguments are so old, we each know what the other will say, but sure it’s fun to revisit the classics anyway… A gentle teasing undercurrent, a mutual respect, an insistence on facts and proof…

Relating to parents or children as adults isn’t always an easy transition to make, but I figure after a few thousand years or so, they must have gotten there right?

I know from personal experience as well that the Dagda is an expert at the gentle chiding that my own Da can produce at times as well. He (the Dagda) isn’t too happy with how I’m nourishing myself lately, although he understands my issues with food, and isn’t pushing it too far. He’s also reminded me every morning this week that I’m teaching this class on Saturday and it’s not written yet (it will be don’t worry, he just wants to make sure it’s done right…)

That subtle, gentle “are you sure you want that” could be hugely annoying from someone else, but from the Dagda, I can take it since he doesn’t overdo it and it’s generally after 2-3 days of a 100% chocolate diet. (Oh yeah, that’s possible, trust me 😀 ) And it’s never given in a “you always do this” or ~”oh shite, you’re at this again?” type of way. It’s always more of a “look, you know you will feel better if…) Which helps a lot.

And he wants to keep an eye on his daughter as well. Even if she is a grown adult and is perfectly capable of helping herself, if he can help her, he will, whether it’s a few quid at the end of the month or dropping in to take care of a few small repairs she’s too busy to tend to herself. She’s his little girl after all, for all she’s a deity in her own right. And that’s isn’t to belittle her at all, more that he cares for her and loves her and won’t give up on her no matter what. And in return, she will pop by for him, when she feels he’s doing too much or invite him round for a bite to eat on a night she knows he’s been pushing himself hard, or even think up an excuse for him to have to do some gentler work urgently as a break from the more difficult stuff.

Or indeed, either of them can provoke a row or heated debate with the other, when they realise the other needs to let off steam. And offer a hug for comfort as well.

He’s a big man, the Dagda, both physically and energetically and he can be overwhelming sometimes, but he’s aware of this and wouldn’t want to cause accidental harm to people just saying hello. I’d still approach him with respect and courtesy initially at least, unless/ until you develop a relationship with him and be careful what you say to him. I once said he was welcome to what food we had in the house and very quickly changed it to he’s welcome to share in our meals, because otherwise, we might find ourselves out of food very quickly! He won’t come where he’s explicitly not invited, but he will come and visit members of his family from time to time, so don’t worry if he pops up as part of a Brigidine practice. It’s probably not you he’s checking up on, although it might be.

He’s fair, he’s steady, he’s dependable. He’s also highly attractive to the ladies, if the amount of mothers for his kids are anything to go by. He can be a rock in a crisis, but he’s a better rock after you develop a relationship with him. He’s big on hospitality and cooking and looking after people. But he can and will remind you to look after all your tools, even your own body, mind, spirit.

And there’s nothing specifically in the lore to tie him into Bealtaine, but the general themes of fertility (in Ireland mostly of the bovine sort or general prosperity, but human fertility fits the Dagda as well), preparing the ground, marshalling resources for the coming year fit him very well. So it’s UPG for him to be linked to Bealtaine, but he’s the most obvious one for me!

Has the Dagda appeared in your work with Brigid? How has it gone?

Daily practice vs ritual

I made a comment in the Brigid’s Forge Facebook group after my last post that, really, rituals and devotionals only take up <5% of my life. Most of my practice is just that, living my life.

I meant it, but it appeared to come as a surprise for some people. I mean, how I live my life is far more important that the few hours a week I spend with Brigid. Those who have grown up within Christianity (or I suppose other organised religions as well) will be well aware of the concept of “Sunday Christians” (or whatever the equivalent in other religions is). These are the people dressed up in the finest, first into the church every Sunday, last out, always monetarily supporting the church, very obviously pious and praying and all the rest of it. And if you were stuck, as my Nana used to say, they’d not give you the steam off their piss.

That’s not the sort of person I want to be. I’m not perfect and I never will be, but for me, religion is not about the appearances. It shouldn’t be anyway and the prevalence of this sort of thinking is worrying in the modern world. Has probably led to the significant falling away in numbers from Catholicism in Ireland at least. (I’ve written about this before on the blog, go and have a look if you want to know more about about it)

That hour on a Sunday in Mass (for Catholics, and let’s face it in Ireland, anything over 35mins is really considered excessive!), or the time I spend with Brigid in spiritual practice is for me essentially. It’s for me to improve my spiritual life. And that’s a worthy cause in and of itself. But one hour a week is 0.5% of your time. It’s not enough to balance out all the rest of the time.

How we live our lives is so much more important than the time we spend in ritual. Ritual is important, yes, and it has it’s place. As does learning about our deities, figuring out their role originally and how that might have developed over time. As does learning prayers and hymns and poems, or indeed creating such prayers and hymns and poems. Yes it’s hugely important.

But what effect are you having in this world? It doesn’t have to be massive. And it’s harder with paganism because frankly, get 2 pagans in a room and on any given topic, you’ll end up with at least 3 opinions in my experience. We don’t have an official universal code of ethics as succinct as the Ten Commandments (while I associate these with Catholicism, I’m almost certain they were stolen from Judaism and changed, but I’m open to correct from people better equipped to deal with it) We don’t have black-and-white answers to most things. You have to, gods forbid, think about your morals and your ethics and how you live your life.

We were never promised easy when embarking on a course of spirituality outside of mainstream religion. It means we have to decide for ourselves what our morals and ethics are. Some things seem easy – killing another human being is wrong. Sure. But what about self defence (and no, seriously, that is not any form of support for that horrific display in the States judicial system a few weeks ago!) What if you kill 1 person instead of 5? What if it’s accidentally? Taking a life should take a toll on us, but there are situations when I can see myself doing it.

Most pagans aren’t attending a ritual once a week, in the same way Catholics are meant to attend Mass once a week. Our spiritual rituals are on longer time frames usually, particularly for community based things. So, we’re probably looking at less than 5% of our time in formal spiritual engagement. If we assume most people need about 8hrs sleep a night; even if someone doesn’t have a formal paying job, they’ll have work that needs to get done that takes at least 40 hrs a week, there’s shopping and food prep and all sorts of things. Even if we’re generous and we say we spend 1hr a day on spiritual practices, that’s 4% of our lives.

The way we do the other stuff, the daily living stuff, will have way more impact in the world for most of us than that 4%. OK, if Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos suddenly decided to use their wealth to pay off all debt in the world or focus on world hunger or something as a spiritual practice, that might have a massive effective in their 1 hour a day. But most of us don’t have that influence.

Where we do have influence is in the little things. Sending a friend a hug cos they need it. Standing up, even when it’s uncomfortable when someone is being racist or sexist or transphobic or whatever. Buying someone a coffee or a meal. Making sure we source our food as ethically as we can afford and can access. (We’re blessed in Ireland with food, but there are many, many places in this world that are not in that situation as I’m well aware!) Look at the clothing we wear and how it was made/ sourced (again, affordability and accessibility).

There is no clear set of rules or limits. And sometimes, when you come from a place of privilege, someone else’s boundaries seem like gatekeeping or just being mean. Sometimes, we can’t do the right thing as we see it because of something else. But we do our best and we do better next time.

Life isn’t simple and easy. It’s messy. It’s blood and bone and hearth and home. It’s what happens to us when we’re busy making plans. It’s what seems to last forever until it doesn’t. But we’re here now in this life and it’s up to us to do our best. Some days that might mean doing a great good, healing someone, giving someone access to something that will improve their lives. Sometimes it’s deciding not to punch someone…

The rituals and the formal occasions are good and necessary and vital for community building and all the rest. But it’s the rest of the time that makes the difference.

When the going gets tough…

…the tough take a step back and re-evaluate what’s a priority and what’s a nice to have.

Not what you were expecting? If I’m honest, it’s not what I was expecting either. I was a fully-paid up member of the “tough get going” club for many years. And it affected a lot of things in my life. It led to injuries to my body through over training and food restriction. It led to mental health issues through ignoring the signs that things weren’t right. It led to relationship issues because, well, you just keep going, right? It’s led to my current situation where I’m off work and trying to recuperate from burnout.

So I’m changing the format. I have been trying to do everything for the last few months, from 60+ hrs a week in work, to managing a household, to maintaining physical health and nutritional intake, to keeping hydrated… it didn’t work and things slipped up. I kept my preparation for Samhain on track, which was good – I was going to say lucky, but it wasn’t luck, I made it a priority, but I kept on making work a priority as well over almost everything else. And that’s not good for me.

So I’m currently in a phase of recuperation that I can take that step back and I’m looking at what I need to do. I’m looking at the daily, weekly, monthly tactics (students of Brian Moran and Michael Lennington may recognise some of this approach) I need to implement and continue and monitor to ensure I fulfil all my obligations, including those I make to myself.

Yeah, I’m putting myself first here. I know my day job pays the bills and requires some attention, but I’ve proved in the last few weeks that when I don’t put myself first, the day job suffers as well. My primary priority at the minute is the walking thing. Since I’ve not been driving in and out to work, I’m making massive progress on the walking thing. Whereas before, I was struggling to walk 10mins without pain, now I’m up to 40 mins – albeit extremely slowly at 4kph (or 2.5mph for my non-metric readers) but it’s a damn sight more than I was doing a month ago. And it’s proven, yet again, that small daily work pays off in the long run.

Next one to tackle is sleep. I’m still sleeping a lot, but it’s not in any sort of usual pattern for me. Last night, it was well after 2am before I could get my brain to calm down and today it’s been a real struggle to stay awake at all. So, sleep hygiene is next on the list. It won’t be today, but this is things like having a bedtime ritual or routine, making the bedroom a helpful place for sleep – quiet, dark, no blue light, etc, clean and nice bed clothes – both sheets and pyjamas here, uncluttered appearance about the place. For me, my bedtime ritual always includes meditation when I’m in the groove. I recently bought the full focus journal from Michael Hyatt’s system, because while I like the idea of journaling before bed, I also like the idea of structure and being able to empty my head of things to remember/do etc, which this journal will help with I think. Have I started using it yet? Oh no, why would I do that!! To be fair to myself, a lot of the reason I’ve not started using it is a) it arrived yesterday and b) I want to look through it and link it to my planner to get the full value out of it. So in the coming days, I’ll start experimenting with it to see where and when I should use it.

Usually, I have a bit of a check in with Herself at night as well. I hesitate as usual to use the word “prayer”, but really, it kinda is. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Good night, thanks for the help today”, or “Hell, I’m dreading this thing tomorrow, can you help?” things like that. Other times it’s a more formal meditation structure, where I follow my pattern of using the visualisation of a flame to empty my thoughts and go on a small walk to talk to her. Actually the flame thing came to me originally from a work of fiction that had nothing to do with Brigid at all – Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. (yes it’s a wiki link to all of his books – they’re fantasy and not to everyone’s taste, but I grew up with them, starting to read them in 1990 and the final book was published – posthumously – in 2013) In those books, the Flame and the Void is used by men to empty their minds and focus. I’m sure it’s actually based in some martial arts technique, but since I never did martial arts, I’m not sure at all.

Either way, the sending my thoughts to the flame is a great way for me to calm my mind. The slight issue is, nothing works 100% of the time, especially when it comes to thoughts and emotions. Terrible, isn’t it? You’d think we’d come into this world with a manual to help us out with things like this. When that happens, I try to compose a prayer, usually as Gaeilge, since that takes more effort and crowds out other thoughts and then I find myself telling a story as Gaeilge either to myself or herself.

Sometimes, I just get up and read or watch telly or something because my brain just won’t shut up, and I deal with the lack of sleep the following day. Tonight, I’m aiming to get back into that ritual a bit, just a little bit. We’ll see how it goes.

Once I get sleep back on track, food will be next and then the compilation of things like spending time with husband, housework, laundry, car maintenance, etc that need to happen just for life, y’know. Then comes the spiritual stuff and how long I need to spend on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to do what needs to be done there. And then we’ll see how work fits in. My suspicion is thought, I’ll need to drastically trim back work hours to a mere 40hrs a week – you know, actually what I’m paid for – in order to fit everything else in. Cos there needs to be downtime as well, when I’m not working, either for money or for my life, when I can just relax, zone out if I wish, do nothing. We underestimate the power of doing nothing in the modern world and I think we need to reclaim it.

So my priority list (which by the way is extremely close to my overview prep for the festivals list) is:

  1. Physical
  2. Mental
  3. Spiritual
  4. Everything else

We forget when we are trying to develop spiritually that we are still physical beings, who need sleep, food, water, etc. And the body, in my worldview, is at least as important as the soul, since without the body, we don’t have any anchor for the soul in this world.

So there’s my priorities for the coming weeks. Body, mind, soul. Put myself first. Look after myself. Keep myself in as good a state of health as I can manage (always remember health will mean different things to different people!) And once everything is in place, the structures and rituals to support me to be my best me, then this tough will get going again!

Delay in blog posts

I had intended to be posting on a Sunday but I’ve missed the last two (I’m sure ye have noticed!) On Sunday 17th October, I was teaching a class on Samhain ritual with the IPS (check it out here if you’d like to take a look) This meant for most of that day I was doing the final preparations as if I were doing my own Samhain ritual. This meant cleaning and sorting out the room I was doing the teaching in – it’s not one I usually use for ritual, so it took most of the day to clean and get sorted in the way I wanted.

This included physical and energetical cleaning, as well as a de clutter and organisation theme as well. Now, on the plus side, I’m now really happy with the way the room looks and it feels better as well. On the down side, it was exhausting, especially the energetical work, since it hadn’t been done in a while. It’s usually my work-from-home office so it doesn’t get the same attention as the other areas I use for ritual work. People don’t always appreciate that there is a difference between physical and energetical cleaning. I do think physical cleaning is an essential part of energetical cleaning, but it’s not the whole thing. So, aside from the cleaning up of about 12 months worth of dust and clutter, I was also clearing out about 12 months of energetical dust and clutter as well. Hoovering out the corners, de-spidering the room, throwing out the rubbish… but it’s open and clear now.

then there was the teaching of the class and since it was ritual, it took a bit more energy than usual. It was a great class and I really enjoyed it – fair warning, there was audience participation in this one as well as my own experience! But it was fun as well and we had a great time doing it.

As a down side from that though, as part of the usual energy drop after a ritual (for me anyway) my already fragile enough mental health took a down turn and I’ve been off work for a week and likely to be so for another 2 at least. I think I mentioned going back on the anti-depressants a few weeks ago and really, I should have taken time off then, but I forced myself to struggle on. And then, it all became too much. So for the last week, I’ve been on recovery mode. I’ve been on extra meds and will be for a few more days to take the edge off. I’m out of work (it’s ok – pay won’t be affected for this, Ireland is different from the States with this, in case people were worried) and my team are being really good at not contacting me to allow me to recover.

But it’s meant that the blog was one of the things that fell off the radar. The things that have made it onto the list of “shit I care about right now” has mostly included food, sleep, personal hygiene. And even they’ve been a struggle some days. This all means I need to take another look at that self care thing the Morrigan was charging me with earlier in my Samhain preparation. (Cos I will be doing my own ritual next Sunday, 31st October, so my prep is continuing). I’m also getting messages similar to “well if you won’t make the effort to look after yourself, we will make it so you have to”. It’s not that clear of course, but that’s the general feeling.

So, sometime before next Sunday, I will need to be spending a day or so cleaning out my usual ritual site in the same way I did this room last week. I also need to make sure I have the energy and will to do the ritual in the way I want to do it and maybe break it up if I need to. Sending myself back into crisis mode would not be helpful for anyone right now. And my doctor keeps telling me I need to be selfish now and look after myself first… this is not something that comes naturally to me. In fact, ignoring my physical and mental and emotional needs comes way more easily and familiarly to me. But here we are. I’m under both medical and deity orders to look after myself. And if that means breaking up my Samhain ritual into manageable bits, that’s what I’ll do.

There’s also been a lot of interest in my preparation for Samhain posts, so I’m thinking of running a 3 month preparation for Imbolc course as well. If you’re interested, please let me know! I’m thinking of taking a small group of people through the exercises and other stuff I do for preparation for the festival, and with it being Imbolc next, people won’t be surprised to hear it’s the one I put most effort into and it’s slightly different to the rest of the festivals – far more focused on Brigid for a start! So do leave a comment or drop me a line if you would be interested in that.

For now, I’m looking at something small I can do right now for me. (It’s lunch. Or possibly brunch – breakfast didn’t happen this morning) Then I’ll look at showering and dressing. In something fun for me rather than something purely practical. And then I may curl up with a film or something comfy on the couch and rest. Because, sometimes, rest is as important a part of spiritual work as anything else. Maybe if I say that to myself often enough, I might start believing it at a body level rather than at a mental level!