celtic

Starting something new…

arms_open_by_waitingforemma-d4chrhkArms Open by ~WaitingForEmma on deviantART

For several years now a project, an idea, has been brewing in my mind. A growing desire to create a space for something that I need, while providing that same space for others who may also need. All the way back in 2011 when I wrote “Carving out more Worship”  it was this new space and project that was on my mind. Now I am literally days away from enacting it. 2013 it seems, is the year of fulfilling a lot of promises, and making vows.

As those of you who read this odd little blog may know or at least summize, I am a public priestess. For several years now I have worked with CAYA Coven and the Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe putting on countless rituals. No literally countless, I have loss track. Our Coven puts on 8 sabbats, 9-13 full moon rituals, 8 pan-dianic sabbats, and a smattering of other rituals in the minuscule inbetweens. Learning ritual coordination and creation in this dynamic group with Yeshe Rabbit’s excellent example has been one of the highlights and true blessings of my public priestess path.

Even with all those rituals, and the calendar year packed, I still felt little tug that something was missing. See CAYA rituals are fantastic, and dynamic and always changing. Always learning. With all those people with their different ideas, paths, and ways the stream of creativity is truly astounding. But on the flip side CAYA rituals are eclectic, and interfaith and most the time do not speak to my specific path. They certainly fulfill my community needs but I knew that I would eventually need to be more of a public priestesses for my gods specifically, in some way.

When you are elbow deep in public ritual it’s hard not to start creating your own, imagining different flavors you would try, the things that are important to you, the things you would probably not do. And as a Celtic Polytheist who has yet to experience a Celtic-centered ritual that she was truly happy with, the thought “put up or shut up” began to circle round and joined forces with another reality.

In the Bloodroot Honey Priestess Tribe every HPS is expected to create and maintain a project that benefits and brings forth the Divine Feminine into the world. These are our Legacies. For the past two years my Legacy was High Priestessing the Goddess Sabbats that the Tribe put on. That meant maintaining, coordinating, and helping wherever needed with the 8 sabbats we put on every year. The “put up or shut up” had teamed up with a whisper of  “what if you did your own rituals for your Legacy?” The threads began to come together.

During my many Dark Moon outings with Temple Witch to our beloved beach another tugging became known. That of the soul satisfying rush of worshiping outside. There are many pagans whose path is not nature based, I’m not one of them. The three realms, Land, Sea, and Sky, and the mysteries and balance found within them are things that get my blood up. Nothing so easily puts me into alignment than being in the alignment of the realms. It feels whole and right to create a relationship with the local places. To see the subtle changes of a place. To notice when people have been less than kind to it, to do what you can to make amends (cleaning up trash).

Another layer, perhaps the most eye opening layer, was the freedom that came with worshiping freely within the eyesight and earshot of whomever. Creating the normalcy of it all.

I have to say I am damn lucky to live in the part of the country where that is even possible. Where no one intrudes and asks what I’m doing while bent over intently by my serpentine rock altar.  And while a few eyebrows may be raised as Temple and I wander out into the cold waves with out silver chalice singing our songs and laughing, no one heckles. No one shouts. There is no danger.

That’s simply not true everywhere.

In Florida, Kyjra Withers has been experiencing escalating attacks on her home.  While it there is no official stance on who or why, but evidence seems to point to her being targeting for her being an out witch. It’s sort of hard to imagine such things happening now and in this country. Especially when you live in a liberal area, and work at a metaphysical store, and in general have never experienced any harassment for being a pagan.

The knowledge of this inspires a sense of responsibility in me. That this freedom, that should be available to all, needs to be utilized, cared for and nurtured. Because it needs to be protected. It needs to grow.

Thus were the small pieces that came together and became a vision for rituals, for a platform that I’m calling the Temple of the Open Sky.

The Temple of the Open Sky is founded on the belief that freedom of religion is a right that needs to be practiced when and where it can be. Here in the SF Bay area we are privileged with a freedom from fear of retaliation for outward expression of differing religious beliefs that is not found elsewhere in the USA, let alone in the World. It is this truth that brought forth that need to create a space where the Gods names were spoken outside of closed doors, without hiding, witnessed under the open sky.

In that vein, the Temple of the Open Sky seeks to create a platform for pagan worship and devotion that is supportive of the many and varying methods of finding the divine. To create a safe container, free from shame, to be out in the world with our spirituality.

For me being a Celtic Polytheist, and the founder of these rituals, it means that for now the rituals are going to be Celtic-centric. I’m not aiming for reconstructionism  but for culturally founded and modernly adapted. But the underlying goal is creating a space for authentic expression of worship and normalization of that worship. In the future I hope that other priests and priestesses in the area might wish to share their rituals, and speak their gods names aloud for all to hear.

An important aspect of the Temple is once again bringing feasting into ritual space. It’s not an easy aspect to work in modern times, especially in public rituals. While it would be easy to host a ritual and feast for a small party in a home when you know how many guests you are expecting, opening things to the public complicates matters. Dietary needs, and just the basics of feeding an unknown number of people quickly turn the idea to a dream out of reach. But the feast is such a central part of the Celtic celebratory ritual, and is the part that I  long for the most. Food being a central foundation of my practice. If we release the idea of trying to feed an unknown number of people without a budget and acknowledge the fact that we will be outside away from a kitchen anyways, an obvious solution presents itself. Picnic! A completely acceptable and long held American tradition, easily rolled into pagan worship. That simplicity really is the structure that I’m building on and hope others will enjoy as well.

But for now it’s just me, which means all Celts. The first ritual is scheduled for this coming Saturday and will be a devoted to Brighid. The next will be in June or July and devoted to Manannan Mac Lir. August or September will be in honor of Epona, and we will end the year feasting to the Dagda.

I plan on posting more about the process, how each of the events go, and even the outlines should anyone be interested in them.

Gotta say I’m a little nervous. But I know this is what I’m suppose to do.

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Sacrifice, Food, the Gods and me

Celtic sacrifice by immersion, detail of the Gundestrup Caldron, c. 1st century bc; in the Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen.

This is one of those posts that have been a long time coming. It’s one of those hot button topics in Pagan circles, and please go ahead with the knowledge that as with everything on this blog, this is all my personal spiritual belief system, disagreements, questions, points of contention all welcomed. What sparked this post was a post that came across my dashboard on Tumblr and the discussion that followed (you can read the original post here if you would like). I stand by all that was said there but want to expand further, past a simple conversation between two disagreeing people. To the different notions of sacrifice, to our societies inherent disvalue of food, to how that just does not work for me.

Cursory use of the internet to find the root of the word sacrifice tells us that it wasn’t until recently that it became attributed to “doing without something” or “giving something up” which tends to be its common association today. An association that continues to be retrofitted to ancient peoples and society, and perhaps wrongfully so. With this common societal association comes what appears to be the mainstream point of view of sacrifice and offerings in the modern Pagan community: That is something given of value with intention to the Gods.

No arguments there. But that is a fairly broad and wide plank to stand on and does not hint at the foundation of “Why?” or even what “value” is. Here is where I see the arguments, and not without reasoning, that animal sacrifice is no longer valid. This argument is usually coupled with the idea that sacrifice is to the Gods of things you wish to have more of, and the assigned value that meat and animals no longer have any. It is both of these things that I take a severe left turn from.

For me sacrifice and offerings have long since past the stage of being only about ensuring things that I want. In the beginning I approached sacrifice with the same understanding of it being something that I was giving up for a greater purpose, but after several years of steady offering I’ve come to wonder if that is not just a remnant understanding of the word from a belief system that I do not hold with.   After-all it is Christianity that is choked full of its abstaining for the glory of God, of sacrifice bringing us closer to the Divine (whether this is a flawed understanding of Christianity I cannot say, but it is the prevailing one in my life). But is this a pagan thought process? Is this a Celtic one? Is this something that the ancient people of Ireland would have held with? I have to wonder. Or is this merely the point of view that I was raised with and never realized was coloring my perspective? I am going to make it a point this year to go back and see what I can find of pre-christian thought on sacrifice. But even without that academic knowledge I realize that I no longer view my practice in that light.

Offering to the Gods

Chicken Livers prepared as offering

 Whether it’s before my altar or within the glory and the presence of the Land, Sky and Sea, I do not sit and take pains over my offerings with the idea or feelings of humbling myself before the Gods. It is not an act of subjugation. Even at it’s most difficult and trying, it is something that I do with great pride and devotion. It is akin to the pride and care that I take in giving gifts to my friends and family, in preparing meals for guests, in prepping for a feast. All that times vastness of the stars in the sky. In short my friends, sacrifice and offerings are about hospitality and loyalty for me.  Hospitality and loyalty on the divine scale.

It then goes rather rationally that I never once stopped to question or even ponder over the fact that the majority of my offerings to my Gods were of a consumptive nature. More precisely food. Because what is the cross-cultural symbol of hospitality? The act in which we do for each other to show we care?  Sharing and giving food. We are mortal, without food we would die. This is a fact that is overlooked in American society but is still a fact none-the-less. It is an act of good will to feed the Gods and any spirit we wish to commune with. An act that is unique unto us. Obviously other tokens of offering are equally worthy, but no other offering besides food seems to be brushed aside so much on the internet at least.

I understand where the point of view comes from, but I feel like it is a iffy one. If I were to believe that the Ancient Celts were a bunch of mud-covered barbarians eeking out survival in the hill sides, then I can easily see how the privileged of today could lead you to believe the simple offering of bread and beer paltry in comparison to the days before.  But I don’t believe that, the more I learn about the Ancient world in general the more this view of third-world standard just doesn’t seem to hold. True, life and death were much nearer and dearer then. Yes there were those poor who lived like that. But I wonder more and more if it was in fact the majority. The Celts were people of trade, of commerce, of agriculture, of war. These things do not lend themselves to such a rudimentary thinking. If I were to follow that logic, “because we live in modern times and food doesn’t have the same life or death value, so it won’t have the same meaning”, then sacrificing or making offering of little handmade crafts and goods does not equate the same meaning either. In fact in order to equate the same meaning (the meaning that value is something that is crucial to the livelihood of the person) then the only fit sacrifice would be large sums of ones income or maybe ones vehicle.

Thankfully I do not hold to this notion of sacrifice, or to the lack of value to food. Anyone who knows me, knows that I HIGHLY value food. A value I believe that was shared by the ancient world. Because while there are many wonderful and beautifully made artifacts of monetary value that have been found that were ritually sacrificed, never has that eclipsed the offering of food.  But America is a strange place now, a place that does not value food and yet is obsessed with it. Obsessed with the over eating of it, of the process of making it faster and better, of reclaiming it, of any laundry list of things to do with it and yet…the FDA just announced it’s giving up on regulating antibiotic abuse in the meat industry, we have a meat and dairy industry that is abhorrent,  cities take the notion that home grown veggies are too ugly to look at and should be illegal, the government has allowed companies to gain a monopoly on seeds in the farming industry, process foods reign supreme, the young and grown suffer from horrible eating disorders, bizarre and unhealthy diets continue to make the front page in magazines around the nation. All of this leads to an atmosphere that it is no wonder a majority of people have an unhealthy relationship with food. But does all that mean that food has no spiritual value anymore?

Not to me. To me food will always be one of those basic building blocks of creation, of magic, of alchemy. We put the pieces together, all the ingredients, prepare it, consume it. And in turn it helps us grow, aids us in our self-healing, keeps us alive. On a spiritual level it brings us together, creates bonds, symbolizes and holds up so much of cultural structures. There simply must be power in it. Being the somewhat animist I am it goes to follow that the more hands on, the more connected with it (as with any offering) you can get, the more strength and power it has. It is why all my food offerings are made with as little processed food as possible. It’s why when given the chance to go and make offering to the fruit trees and harvest the fruit myself before making it into bread or otherwise, I JUMP at the chance. It enhances the magic, it enhance the relationship, the connective thread of hospitality. From there it is just a small and tiny jump to wanting to be able to prepare and see through the process of life and death for my meat and for my Gods. There is a mystery, an initiation that comes with seeing the cycle of life and death through. Of taking it into your body, of being the one responsible for insuring its sanctity and humane nature. It is one of my goals in life to live in such a place that is possible. Now I can see how if you did not eat meat, for whatever reason, that then the act of animal sacrifice and offerings of meat would follow to be irrelevant to your practice. But to those who eat meat and still say that animal sacrifice is meaningless and invalid today, to me are also saying that offering and sacrifice of food is meaningless and invalid. I simply cannot agree.

Obviously these principles of offering, of sacrifice, are deeply sacred and personal things.  They should be considered at length and frequently. At the moment I am content and solid in coming to this understanding of sacrifice separate from the one that prevailed before. It brings me great feelings of rightness to know that my sacrifices are not made solely under the pretense of need on my part or my deities part. But out of joyful devotion to them, and reciprocated respect.  That I accept the fact that I eat meat, that my Gods enjoy it as well, and that when the time comes I am willing to see that through to its end. I continue to hope and strive for a world where traditions and faiths that can practice their values (that are within just laws) without recourse. And that in the end we come to an understanding of letting people worship what Gods they will.

The Value of Money

Had an interesting experience that lead to an interesting thought the other day. I work in a metaphysical shop, whose patron deities are some of the Orisha. Not a pantheon that I work with personally, but certainly one whose energies I’ve come to recognize. The Orisha are very popular in my community so it was kind of hard not to.  I admit that at first I was a little afraid it would be weird lighting their candles and tending their altars at the store regularly. But quickly came to find that polite reverence is a welcomed thing.

One day when I was working a got a particularly odd phone call. The short of it was that someone was wanting me or someone at the store to help them put a curse on someone. It was a person that didn’t seem to understand no and got off the phone saying they would come explain it to me in person. Okay…

Now I was not and am not opposed to telling people that we aren’t that kind of store and send them on their way.  But I was on my own that day and being the general prepardeness kinda gal I realized that it would probably just be all around better if said person didn’t find the time to make it to the store. So I light up some delicious sage, do the rounds, and decide to grid some black & brown tourmaline on doorway. It was in putting those pieces down that I took note of Papa Legba’s altar, sitting there happy as you please.

Due to his immense popularity in my social circles, I’m sure in part to him being the gatekeeper of his people, I’m not completely ignorant of his likes and dislikes. And while some people attract Trickster gods, or storm deities, throughout my life it’s been the Chieftains/King/Father Gods that take a shine to me (and I am not complaining one wit). So the thought of asking Papa for help shielding his store was not uncomfortable to me.  But what to give as an offering?

This is where I have one of those moments of realization that investment in a pack of cigarettes or smoking tobacco to just keep in my purse as emergency offering material  is a brilliant idea. But alas no tobacco, and being at work no alcohol either. Standing there staring at the jovial candle burning I’m hit with the smell of spices. I could easily go to the herbs and find something appropriately spicey and it may very well work as it would be an offering from the store on behalf of the store, yet I’d still like to offer something of my own and I don’t even have a stick of cinnamon gum on me. Meditating on his altar I see the glint of copper and remember. I’d witness many of his followers make offerings of change, and I knew that his number was three. Problem solved I went and dug out three of my shiniest pennies, asked him to watch the store front and asked to set that person on a path elsewhere. Feeling better I went on with my day, and said person never showed up on my shift. I’m fairly certain they didn’t show up at all.

But the whole thing got me thinking about money and offerings.

What a person offers to a Deity, spirit or otherwise is usually dependent on historical precedent, personal experience, and to some extent common sense. It’s fairly easy to know what to give to the Deities that we are familiar with, live with, or worship. Less so to those outside of our sphere. There is historical precedents for leaving money as offerings for most ancient cultures. There is certainly precedents for money as offering for the Orisha, most of the altars that I have seen for them have various amounts of money on them. Everything from high dollar bills to the humble penny.

But I have to admit it was the first time that I had ever given money as an offering. My gods had never asked or shown an interest in money for an offering. In fact the idea kinda tasted sour in my mouth.

 But why? It’s not that there isn’t historical precedence for it. The Celts are generally agreed to have worn their wealth. With Ireland specifically having traded and dealt with specific weights of gold and silver rings or bracelets. The finding of such rings and bracelets in bogs and under standing stones throughout Ireland sets the stage for money being an appropriate offering.

But perhaps the hitch is in the details.  In Ireland gold was relatively abundant, and in Britain and other sectors of the Celtic world money-rings were made of gold, silver, iron, and copper. All metals with power and energies. Metals that we, as human beings have been attracted to since discovering them.

Comparatively money of today, in America seems paltry. Coins are a combination of (VERY SMALL amounts) Copper, Zinc, and Nickel. Coinflation is a website that gives you the melt down value of your coins. It’s kinda eye opening. Then there is paper money, which in of itself is just paper that we as a society have assigned value to. We could make the argument that all money, even gold and other precious metals are assigned their value based on society. But that argument is going to get us no where fast. For me at least the precious metals hold a certain energy that our modern base metals don’t. Just as plastic doesn’t ring energetically for me.

It may be in part that my Gods worship did not follow into modern day as others have. So modern money’s value isn’t apparent, I’d imagine if I were use to gold cache’s as an offering suddenly being presented with a $20 would be confusing. In the same way that I try very hard not to make offerings of processed foods because it just seems to have less spiritual value to them.

I guess it comes down to preference. Whether or not the symbolic value of modern money is important to you and your deities, or if it’s more about the spiritual value of the materials. Overall it was a very interesting thing to think about lol, and I’d love to hear other people’s take on whether or not they find modern money to be a good offering for their deities.

Penny for your thoughts? lol

The Heart of the matter


At some point in the future I’m sure that there will be a post that does into the nuts and bolts of what exactly it is that I believe and what I practice and how that differs from my public priestessing. I have no doubt on this. At the moment however this is not that post. So instead I’ll just give you the bits you need to know.  I’m a Gaelic Polytheist, I believe in many gods, I came to reverence of the gods of the Irish pantheon through the reverence of ancestors. As such the act of offering in worship has always been a corner-stone of my practice. Little things, big things, singing while cooking a meal and offering a portion. Water on all the altars. Bread, flowers bought and picked, artwork done in honor. Honey, coins, the list goes on and on. The change came when we moved out to the Lodge. Living out in the country, above a horse stable, I suddenly felt more connected to my gods than ever before. Being able to step outside and feel dirt, see creatures, plants everywhere. Doing ritual outside I felt more charged, more power in the connection. I started leaving offerings outside more and more, making little shrines to the creek sprites and the crows. With these offerings came little gifts,  feathers, bones, a gnarled branch of oak, horse hair. The power and the beauty in these natural things really took my breath away. I’ve always been a little averse to artificial things in spiritual practice but this really solidified it for me. Then came Samhain…lol

As I said I am a public priestess aside from my personal practices. With my coven we put on eclectic drop-in rituals for a diverse and thriving community. Our Samhain ritual is aspecting heavy (I believe that some people call it “Calling down”) and last Samhain I was asked to aspect Macha. For some good information on the various Macha’s in the Irish tradition you can start here. Another bit you need to know is that I am dedicated to the Morrighan, and I’m sure at some point I’ll have to go into how I see the Morrighan and work with her (is it a Title of  several goddesses? A triple goddess? Some combination thereof?), but suffice to say that I have and do work with all the names and goddesses that fall under the Morrighan name. It was in working with Macha that opened up a new look at what to offer, it had just never occurred to me before to give any of my deities meat, or blood. But it fit, a heart for Macha (ok in actual fact she wanted a head but that was trickery to get and I ran out of time). The quest for the heart brought its own revelations, on how ridiculous “butcher shops” are now a days (they don’t “butcher” anything other than a tenderloin into steaks) and the mere reaction the thought of raw meat as an offering garnered. But that first offering was the stepping stone to a deeper more fulfilling path and I haven’t looked back since. Even though I have since moved away from my peaceful Lodge and back into the urban world of the City, I still feel that strong connection. I just have to work a little harder for it.

Now I go to the sea. Where the land, sky and sea all meet and lay my offerings down after a climb over the mighty rocks to the perfect spot. This time it was a HIGH lofty rock jutting out into the sea, it was a glorious view from up there. Breathing in the clean air with a bit of adrenaline (it would have been very dangerous if I’d slipped climbing up) Under the watchful eyes of the Ravens, I pray, sing and loving prepare my offering. This time, since it was not only the dark moon but an eclipse,  it was a beautiful whole beef heart with homemade oatmeal drizzled with honey and mixed with yogurt, and my always offering of an apple, a token of my love and appreciation.  When I was done, turned to be greeted by the watchful gleaming eyes of the Raven Brothers. They know me well enough now to know that I have delicious for them and are impatient for me to leave, but not without swooping down gloriously close and showing off their beautiful selves.

I live for these days. The care and preparation that goes into deciding the next offering, gathering the items blessing and caring for them. The drive out away from the city in itself revitalizing. Then being there at the nexus where all the worlds meet. Watching the Ravens come in greeting, and the pelicans in the distance. Building a fire, having a simple meal, communing, worshiping. It is simple, it is glory.