ritual

When history adds to your modern practice

Today I dived head first down the rabbit hole of Google Scholar and a wide array of historical academic papers that are available to read. While saving a whole bunch to read later, one caught my eye.

Washing and Bathing in Ancient Ireland

A. T. Lucas

The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland

Vol. 95, No. 1/2, Papers in Honour of Liam Price (1965), pp. 65-114

I am relatively well known to be a woman of Feasting, as I consider food, the acts of hospitality and feasting to be a huge part of  my spiritual well being. There is however another portion that is likely not as well known because it’s just not something that I was able to concretely connect as “Gaelic” in my practice. Certainly it is something that has always been a important aspect of my practice, but I chalked up a lot of that to be unique to me. Sometimes, you read something and then you make historical and spiritual connections you didn’t “know” were there but were completely there and now can consider more ways to incorporate it. In this case it’s, Ritual bathing.

Since childhood the pleasure and just comfort of a good hot bath has always had a place in my heart. My household regularly used hot showers and baths as a way to help aid the healing process of headaches, colds, flu, muscle aches, and pretty much everything under the sun. There is the vinegar bath for a bad sunburn. The oatmeal and milk bath for chicken pox. The Epsom salt bath for other illness. When I moved out of my parents house, I started having intense migraines and stumbled on the remedy of showers where you turn the water to as hot as you can stand and then as cold as you can stand, repetitively. You kinda feel like your getting torn apart and are exhausted afterwards but for a long time it was the only relief I could find.  Along my witchcraft path I learned the value of purification baths, and adding a variety of other herbal and stone items for magical purposes. Likewise I discovered that while I sucked a meditation and trance work, I could easily slip into trance and meditation in a steamy shower or bath.

At that time, it made sense to me, in that water, especially running water, is a gateway to the Otherworld, and steam seemed associated with the mist and fog that is also seen in Irish myth and folklore to be a portal to the Otherworld. The act of bathing seemed to create a liminal state of its own that I’ve always felt connected to and it’s been a useful way to de-stress and in general keep emotionally balanced over the years.

But I had never made any stronger connections to Irish mythology or lore until recently. A few years back, my partner was experiencing some intense stress at work. Anyone who has a lot of stress in their lives, know how it just starts to take a toll mentally and physically. For some reason, I called to mind the story of the young Cúchulainn returning from battle still in his battle frenzy and being dunked/bathed in three vats of water to cool his furor and return him to a more human state. I felt a connection with the stresses and dehumanizing aspects that service jobs can reap upon a person and the inhuman state of Cúchulainn in the story. It seemed to me that the act of being bathed ritualistically as the young hound was, was a way of bringing him back into the fold of his people. Bringing him back to peace and civilization in some way. I started to use showering in this way, after work. A way to wash away the grim and rat in a maze feelings that Corporate America can bring, and return to a state of comfort, balance and humanity. It helped. It became sacred and essential in our comfort rituals.

The article highlights some facets of bathing and washing in Ancient Ireland and in Irish myth that I hadn’t taken the time to ponder before. In particular it’s connections with hospitality and even feasting(!).

It outlines various examples of how a bath was one of the requisite amenities given to a guest as part of the rules of hospitality. We are given the example of the bad hospitality of King Bres Mac Mac Eladain who had a poet of the Tuatha dé Dannan visit. He was conveyed to a small house which was narrow, dark and dim, there was neither fire, nor bath, nor bed. Three small cakes, and they dry, were brought to him on a little dish. The next day he rose and he was not pleased. From this and the other examples tales of Cúchulainn, King Donn, Mael Dúin, being greeted with lavish beautiful welcomings the included lovely women to bath them, the argument that having a comfortable and plush bath available for guests was considered the mark of a good household.

Comfort is one of the tenets of hospitality, and while I have generally considered my mother’s propensity for buying copious amounts of soft bath towels and having over flowing baskets of colorful washcloths available, to be her desire for a magazine type home,  I now look at it at it as being very gracious. If I were to show up at my mother’s house unannounced with 5 or more guests unexpected and we all needed showers, she would have clean fresh towels and cloths ready and waiting. I’m afraid I can’t say the same for my own. In fact to own the truth, my house has only a handful of towels and they are almost never all clean at once. Something to consider.

The article also make the connections to prestige and honor to be the first to bath, making several references to chieftains and kings being granted the right to “the first bath and the first drink” at a feast. There is some interesting information that makes a strong case that bathing of somekind (whether full body or hands and feet) were done prior to feasting. This makes sense in a logistical and hygienic sense, as well as adding a layer of ritual cleansing to feasting that just makes energetic sense. It also reminded me a lot of a podcast I was recently recommended, Dark Ages Feasting – The British History Podcast. Which, while predominately looking at Anglo-Saxon traditions, covered the ritual handwashing that took place before eating at a feast. He also pointed out how uncouth many of we modern folks are in comparison, how often do you actually wash your hands before a meal? More things to consider ;

The article only briefly touches on the connection of ritual bathing by women being connected to healing and magic, but there is enough to make note of and keep an eye out in further reading.

There is a lot of minutia of daily life in ancient Ireland, that perhaps not everyone would consider interesting lol, but I love it.  Things like theories of what sort of detergents they used, how they heat their water, what the tubs looked like, the different words that meant different types of bathing. These things don’t necessarily add anything to my modern practice, but they help to provide another piece of the puzzle to a worldview of the past. I feel like that helps to create a depth of understanding that solidifies my modern practice.

If you have made it this far in this much longer ramble than anticipated post, all of this is to say that I recommend the article lol. It has opened some ideas in my head as far as ritual feast  activities, and that I for sure need an lovely washing station in my future feasting hall. It reinforced  my I practice of using bathing for sacred ritual purposes as well as for community and hospitality building in some ways. More food for thought on how to relate to the every day life and I suppose a little window in how I break out academic articles and relate them to my practice.

Brigid’s Holy Day

As I posted in my last blog, I was part of a group celebration of Brigid on the 1st of February. It was delightful.

For most of the day I was working, so I could not do my usual activities of reverence for Brigid, such as cheese making. However working at the amazing Sacred Well, I was able to utilize our Community Altar room and set out a water offering a candle for Brigid for the day. I also took the liberty of listening to Celtic music pretty much exclusively all day lol. But I eagerly look forward to the end of the day and the small ritual that was planned by our Brigid priestesses.

Under the cloak of darkness by the light of the bountiful full moon our small band of mischief and heart took to the bay, to a much favored spot known by our Cauldron sister Rowan. The moon was a glorious galleon on the foggy sea, luminous and steady. The rocks stood in silent witness as we gathered there on the liminal edge of space and time. The grey cloaked sky melted seamlessly with it’s loving tranquil sea. We had a few items to set up our altar. A bowl filled with precious water collect in that silvery moonlight. Candles to glow, small and cheerful echoing the powerful light above them. Apples and bottles of precious spirits for offerings.

Hail the Lady of fire and spirit. The Exulted One

Hail the Lady of fire and spirit. The Exulted One

We gave thanks and offerings to the three realms for their continued balance in our lives. Our leading Priestess made a heartfelt invocation to her beloved Lady Brigid that pulled down moonbeams on the water and parted the veils to swell our hearts with the power and love of the exulted goddess Brigid. We had gathered petitions and gave offerings on others behalves as well as ourselves. During that quiet time of whispered wishes and tearful prayers, our words were met with the gift of sea birds landing gently on the water. When prayers of health and well being for loved ones trembled from our lips a flock of geese flew out from the bay with hushed grace.

Brigid's Holy day 2015 (2)As our last words of humble reverence and honorings were raised up to the sky, our toes felt the moist touch of the sea that swelled up to meet us. As the tide took out the apples on their playful hands, we dipped out cloths in the waters blessed by Brigid and hurried back to firm ground.

There were many words spoken in sacred communion. Above all we lifted each others name in gratitude and praise and heaped glory upon the Lady of Well and Forge. Our small cauldron of five powerful women prove that with sincerity and devotion much can be accomplished. The rest of the year lays ahead of us, and we fully intend to prove ourselves worthy to be priestesses of our beloved gods. No matter how the year changes, we have made a wonderful start. I am very proud of us.

When I returned home, I had enough energy to set out my cloths and things to be blessed by Brigid that night and light a candle for her. In the morning I tended to my altar and poured her another offering of milk and honey, and set the flowers I had bought in her honor in the Cup of Glory. Simple and yet complete.

A linen shawl made by my grandmother. A cotton cloth made by me. A hair bauble given to me by my dear friend that was bought in Ireland.

A linen shawl made by my grandmother. A cotton cloth made by me. A hair bauble given to me by my dear friend that was bought in Ireland.

No matter what your celebrations looked like, I hope that you are blessed with health and joy at this time of year. May we all feel the hope that spring and the goddess of inspiration can grant us.

Brigid's Holy day 2015 (4)

The Cooking Hearth of the Great Queen – Lessons in the fire

The main error committed by those who have called the Morrígan a “war goddess” has not been in giving her that designation, but in defining it too narrowly. When one considers what war was for the medieval Irish, rather than in light of what war means now, or even to the Romans, the designation becomes as complex and nuanced as its subject herself. All the messiness, the intricacies, and the facets of the Morrígan are the facets, intricacies, and messiness of war as the Irish knew it. Nearly all the important narrative texts of medieval Irish literature, and Ulster cycle texts in particular, center on that enterprise. It is therefore no surprise that the Morrígan, as embodiment of war, would appear conspicuously in these texts. Fame and glory, gore and terror: in war, are all one. And so the Morrígan. — The Morrígan and her Germano-Celtic Counterparts A dissertation by Angelique Gulermovich Epstein

Ever since reading Epstein’s wonderful dissertation this quote has stayed with me. It helps to succinctly keep the mind open to all the possibilities and facets of such a complex goddess and culture instead of getting too trapped in single ideas. I am always looking to learn more and to more full integrate my spiritual beliefs into my everyday life. So when new nuances come to light and settle so harmoniously with what I already have in my life and methods it just helps to deepen those bonds that I have found and created.

Last year I was inspired to go on a ritual camping trip to honor the Morrighan. Having found a truly amazing location that would include a 3 mile hike to the campsite and then allow for a beach side ritual, I was deeply motivated and looking forward to the challenge that this camping trip would provide. I often find that physical challenge is something that I yearn for in my day to day life that is absent. Thankfully, I don’t have to struggle to procure food, or fight for my life. This is a privilege of the modern first world that I live in and I am grateful. Yet…there is a part of me that wonders if I can ever truly know myself in such comfortable surroundings. There is some nameless voice in my soul that believes that it is through adversity, danger, fear, that you temper your core and truly find yourself. Many a sleepless night I have wondered if I am truly living my principles by not fully embracing this belief.  Shouldn’t someone who believes such things dive head first into a life that would manifest these things? Shouldn’t I have joined the military? The Peace Corp? Any other of countless paths that would bring me face to face with what I describe? It is the paradox of my existence in that this belief and pull goes head to head with my belief that life is meant to be enjoyed. That I consider my life well lived if I and my loved ones are happy. I am a conflicted soul if ever there was one lol.

So here presented itself a safe but challenging opportunity to get out into nature and connect with myself and the divine. More I knew that there were others in my community that would welcome the opportunity for the same. In my public priestess work amoungst a  mixed crowd of personal paths I relish the opportunity to do things the way I do them and invite others along to partake. I spent some time trying to figure out who to invite and how open to make this trip. Ultimately it seemed best to invite those who worked with the Great Queen or had approached me about working with her and those willing to undertake the physical challenges.

Not surprisingly when you set out with the intention of holding a ritual camping trip with the Great Queen to challenge yourself, you are challenged…and expected to adapted.

The first location that inspired the trip was just flatly not available for the weekend for up to a year in advance. Being someone who has only ever done much camping in national forest situations I was shocked that a month in advance was not enough. That in fact a year was needed. Adapted or die, right? Lol

Interestingly as this first plan and rendition of the ritual trip fell away there was an extreme influx of emotional and personal challenge in our community and amoungst my dear inner circle.  Things were hard, everyday was an emotional roller coaster. Within my own house we are still grieving for the loss of the Lumberjack’s mother and the first year of her passing quickly approaches. As anyone who has suffered through hard times know that the stress, depression, anxiety and other aspects take their toll physically and mentally. During this time I continued to pray, and to hold that some how I would do my best to honor her and her glory.

It was the Lumberjack that had me look farther inland after spending so long looking for a good site on the coast. I wanted some place that was a little less populated than most state parks and also had some water source. Then as the emotional turmoil reached its peak we went for a long and much needed drive out to scout out prospective camping sites. There is something spiritually comforting to me about long driving trips. It probably hearkens back to my childhood spent driving from one side of the country to the other. Something about it can just rest my mind, pull me out of the drudgery and see the bigger picture of life. I have to say that is was exactly what the doctor order. Truly I am blessed to have the Lumberjack in my life willing to support me and tend to my emotional needs amoungst everything else.

The drive up was beautiful and the location was stunning. It was a much more developed camping site than the original site, but still remote and next to an amazing reservoir. Stunningly blue and filled with pyrite and quartz. The location did not have the same wild rugged energy that had drawn me to the first location. Instead it was serene, inviting and ethereal. Standing on the banks looking out on the tranquil reservoir feeling that familiar welcomed feeling of finally being able to breath fully deeply, two ravens languidly circling the trees and I just accepted it as a gift. The time and energy of the present was harsh and tumultuous, here was the time and the place to gain respite. To nourish the soul. How often do such opportunities present themselves? And again should you limit the understanding and honoring of the Gods? No we would not be physically challenging ourselves, and meeting nature in the untamed wilds. But each and every one of us were being challenged in our daily lives. Having to self analysis, to face difficult situations, people and conversations and not turn away. It seemed more than possible that in the stillness and rugged outdoors we all would find a piece of ourselves that would help to preserve us through the challenges at home.

Bullard's Bar

With the new location came new possibilities. If the original offering of physical exertion and shear will to make this happen was no longer the center point, then naturally food would be the new center. Food is the center point of most of my offerings and connection to deity at home and I saw no reason why we shouldn’t feast to her honor. Luckily for me the group was equally eager to bring abundance and feast to the trip, and in the end we had so much food. We planned the meals together as a community. Marinated Chicken and grilled corn, plenty of sandwich meats and cheese for lunches and snack, pancakes, bacon and eggs for breakfast, and a Primal Heart beef stew for the culminating supper. No one went hungry.

We spent out days in the cerulean quartz charged water. Delighting in the refreshment and glitter. Quickly we found a treasure of pyrite laced clay mud. Smooth and glorious it immediately became a favored past time to cover ourselves in clay and search for quartz treasures on the shore. Beer, laughter, swimming, mud, I didn’t know these were things I needed.

The late days were spent tending the fire, getting the stew started and fighting off mosquito. I enjoy cooking on most days, but I have not had the pleasure of cooking over that many open flames yet. That is soon to change, there is something amazing and so heartening to throw hunks of meat into a cast iron pan over a roaring fire, hearing the sizzle, smelling the sear. There is a deep contentment in getting a large cauldron boiling and stirring into it the intentions of health and comfort for all.

Generally I associate my cooking with the Dagda. He has a shrine in my kitchen, and it well associated with food. His cauldron of plenty, his ever roasting pig, etc.  But over that fire, I felt her presence. There isn’t much more that I can say than that. Upon returning home from trip I was inspired to look up an article that was in my que to read for a while on Tairis Tales, I vaguely remembered it was about cooking and the Morrighan. Lo, indeed it was:

There is a popular belief that the Morrígan is a war-goddess and not much more than that, but like any other deity, things are never as simple as they might seem. Aside from her associations with war and magic there are some intriguing references in popular lore and the medieval manuscripts that associate her with the Fulacht na Morrighna, or ‘The Spit of the Morrígan’, often simply referred to as the ‘Cooking Hearth of the Great Queen’ (or variations thereof…). — Fulacht na Morrighna

Isn’t that just amazingly in alignment with just freakin’ everything? I laughed when I read it. Just laughed. But more it really did drive home the feelings and inspirations that I felt in that campsite. This part in particular:

It’s notable that the last paragraph in the excerpt above specifically mentions outlaws approaching the Morrígan, since the fulacht themselves are generally found in places that are not associated with settlements; they are commonly called fulacht fiadh, the latter word meaning ‘wild’, possibly referring to the location of them, or else the wild meats (such as deer) that were cooked and then consumed in them. Outlaws were usually young men who left their tuatha to live outside of normal society (and therefore the law and protections that such status within the tuath brought with it), and made their living as hunters and warriors for hire (or brigandage). 

We very much were outside of our normal community for those three days. We were outside of our homes, our families, and the usual titles and jobs that we tend to day to day. For those three days were were just in the “wilds” and had found comfort and solace at the hearth fire of the Great Queen. It is my hope that the other also felt this since of comradery and sanctuary amoungst the trees, the swooping birds, and dirt.

Over the two nights I told the tale of Cu Chulainn and his first meeting with the Morrighan and then his last stand. Probably not my best retelling but it was fun and heartfelt. Ritually I kept things simple and as I do at home just part of the natural weave. Offerings to the Land, Sea, Sky and Ancestors on arrival. Burning juniper on the first fire of the night for protection and blessing. Offerings to the Morrighan every night. Chicken hearts roasted over the open fire and joyfully popped into the mouth. Offered up on the open flames to the Phantom Queen. I sang her songs, and then we that felt called to sang their own inspirations. We asked for wisdom and visions that we might need. We raised our glasses in her glory and honor. We composed a new song to her in the dark by the light of the fire. We enjoyed ourselves, and washed our clay and oil caked hair in cool water. We laughed, we ate, and just lived in her presence.

One dim morning I sat up in my tent to brush my hair and listen to the wind in the trees. Just in time to watch a sleek regal raven swoop down and land on a branch above our camp and sweep a glance over us all before flying off towards the water. It was a moment of peace and I smile remembering it even now.

There are many small lessons that I took away from this trip. It was a subtle expression of what is usually portrayed to be a very catalystic deity. It was the light hearted stories of glory and triumph. It was the comfort of a well cooked meal found even so far from home.  I hold a renewed respect and love for my Queen. The Queen who demands self improvement at all times, who does not flinch at throwing adversity and terror to teach lessons. The Queen who knows, who sees, and who foretells. Is the same Queen who keeps her people fed, who shows that even in the wilds there is a way. There is always a way. Maybe just not the way you were expecting…

I look forward to more such trips. To trying my hand at returning to the original location and the different lessons learned there. But ultimately I am grateful I have the opportunities that I do.

The New Time

Let me set the stage. A magical house, expansive, comfortable, lush. Candles lit on every altar, most every wall. The scents of pasta, cheese, soup, and bread mingle with the chiming of bottles pouring wine. Laughter, throaty deep and beautiful laughter fills the corners and makes the house expand with pride. A dozen stunning bright and vibrant women sit around the food laden table and lounge on floor and chair. Cats scuttle and a baby toddles from smiling aunty to smiling aunty. It is a gathering of the Tribe, the meeting of the minds. Women from different walks of life, different personal practices and professions, bound together in sisterhood. Working to help support one another, working to crave out a space in the world for women to find their spirituality and the mysteries within.

The topic comes up, to something this bunch of techno-savy, social media ladies have all seen and noticed with fervor. More and more stories, horror stories, of the wave of anti-abortion laws being seen throughout the country. These bills that get us closer and closer to the reality of women being criminally charged for loosing a pregnancy. These bills also introduce the gateway for banning birth control. With Presidential candidates like Rick Santorum who has openly come out against birth control : “Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” But it doesn’t just stop at the political level. We have a rampant blame the rape victim mentality, and the kicker for this discussion; the latest diagnosis of “mass hysteria” in upstate New York. Maybe it’s always been this bad, maybe there is a wave to get women under control. All that mattered in that sacred space was that we ALL noticed, and didn’t like what we saw.

It should be no surprise that a house of witches, decided a ritual was needed, days before the Leo Full Moon. But this would be a different ritual, one shared. Shared as much as possible and to as many as would take it up. The Mother of the New Time was created. Fueled by a desire to make change happen, to have a better world. We made magic the way that we knew how to make magic. But imagine if it went further? Imagine if others look on the Mother of New Time and not just pass it up because it’s not how they do magic. But took up the cause and made their magic? What if those who don’t cast spells, took it up in prayer and petitions? What if groups of all kinds and all paths under this umbrella of Paganism took this as a start and ran with it. Every full moon people of all creeds taking the time and the care to set the intention for a better future for all. The energetic wave would be awe inspiring.

More than that, the chain of events would lead to real change. We set forth with our spiritual intention every full moon to the end of 2012. The moon then becomes a focus and reminder to wake up and take notice. Suddenly that news article you read, reminds you to pay special attention to that issue during the rite. You find yourself paying more attention to the news. You start to look into whether or not your candidates and representatives are supporting those ideals that you care about and pray for. It’s election year, you have a list of what is important to you, how you want the world to change. You can use that to help navigate the candidates , issues, the propositions.  It becomes a part of your working mind, you make choices with your pocket book, with your voice. The ritual then is a wake up to be present in the shaping of the future! That is power. That is how change happens.

Sisters, Brothers, People of the world and internet, if you feel called to this work in anyway, I encourage you to do so.

There is a crispness to the air, a crackling to the sounds, that denotes power. The full and glorious moon softly emanates light dancing in and out of the wispy silken clouds. I have made ready my altar. Washed it’s surfaces and blessed it’s space with love and oil. I make myself ready for the work ahead. Cool clean holy water for my Green Spring, my work is for the betterment of this land. The caress of sweet smoke across my skin, my work is for the future of all. I give rites to my Gods, to watch over me, to watch over this work, to bless it with their wisdom and strength. I give rites to the Ancestors, to hear me, to hear all others who join, to join their voices. I make offering to this land, and to this country. At this nexus of powers, spirits, and time, I dream of the future.

My amazonite stone sits on the pedestal of the serpent. A stone of truth, of justice. A spirit of transformation, of wisdom. Atop the heart of humanity. It is with beating hearts that change will come. I pour libation over the little stone, an offering to it’s spirit to be my ally in this working. I explain to it the purpose, the intent, and it’s part. Careful to be very clear of it’s ultimate fate. With permission and blessing, I take the little stone in my mouth and anoint it with my spit and voice. Cupped and cherished in my hands I let the words wash over it.

I dance at the edge of the world
Like my ancestresses before me
I am a sacred vessel
My blood is indomitable
Cradling the now at my breast
Nurturing the future unfolding
There is nothing to fear
I am a Mother of the New Time

There was more magic to be made that night, more words to be chanted. Till far into the witching hour the candles burned. But in that moment, there started something new.

May it continued to be shaped in love, honor, and truth.

Carving out more Worship

by Manara

by Manara

A new year sits in front of me. Filled with new challenges, new adventures, continuing duties. Slight changes, the whole nine yards. Yet I know I have to carve more time out for worship. I have to untangle from that ball of string, cords, and leather, the ability to just sit in sacred space with my gods, with the ancestors, with the spirits of land. Just sit, to honor and give to them without some big spell, or want, or design. Just to be there and acknowledge one another.

It’s funny the reaction that one can get from the simple use of a word. A word like “worship” is such a loaded word. Especially in the Pagan/Witchcraft world. Just because Christianity took over the Western World and thus the English language grew out of that foundation doesn’t mean the word has to be tied to that particular religion, or at least I wish that were the way of things. I suppose maybe that is the reason it’s loaded. I consider my devotion, and path of my Gods to be my religion. There was a time that I didn’t want to connect myself to that term either. I equated religion with a structure I had no control over. But now I use the term because it does resonate with me, it speaks of the deep devotion that I hold to my Gods, and the resurrection of the ideals and virtues of their culture to the modern world as an American witch. The word religion encompasses all that, I have yet to find another word that suits it so. We all have to find the words that speak to us, and then in many ways have to find other words to translate to the people around us. To me religion is my world view, my cultural perspective, my spiritual beliefs, my ethics, my priorities, all rolled up in one. It is because of my religion, that I have a dedication to my community, and helping them foster growth and reaching new people. It is because of my religion that value hospitality, honor, courage, justice, productivity, and a whole slew of other virtues. It is because of my religion that I believe in Heroic Morality, for me it is what you DO, not what you do not do. And it is for my religion that I need to carve out more time.

So the chilly wonderful autumn wind blows through my house (I have opened every window and sit slightly cold just to feel it), and I sit at my computer and type out my plans. My wants, my visions, that currently have no platform. I have already dedicated myself to a task this year, they’ll have to wait. But it’s probably for the best. Give me time to stew them up proper. When I have my house, I’ll be able to do things right and proper, to their full scale. With standing stones, designed and erected by my own hands, with a fire pit, water, trees, and the light of the sun, moon, and stars. To be able to connect to Land and Sky, unfettered.

Till then we’ll work up to it. Right and proper within my means. More worship. Simple heartfelt offerings, a song/chant/story in their honor, and feasting. If I plan now, I could have four feast of worship this coming year. Start small, grow bigger. One to the Great Chieftain, to the Keeper of the Waves, for the Ancestors and Local Spirits, to the Great Queen.

See now that I’ve told you all, I have to do it 😉

Warding a Ritual

One thing I’ve noticed in recent years is that there isn’t a whole lot of information on Warding Ritual. And being a High Priestess of a public coven I feel that it’s kinda important information. So here’s my take on it, for what it’s worth, may it be of some use to some people.

While it is my personal belief that every ordained “preist/ess” and practiced witch should be able to ward a basic public indoor ritual, it is common trend that certain people will be more drawn to the work than others. Usually these are the people who take safety as the highest priority, tend to be grounding energies to be around, may very well lean toward the Warrior path. But it’s a skill that is worth the work and effort to getting good at. As it helps in all manner of situations in life and in magical work.

What is the difference between Warding and Shielding?:

These two words get interchanged a lot and there tends to be confusion about them because when talking about one you usually talk about the other. As a general rule of thumb, shielding is something you do for yourself or a person and warding is something you do for a place/location group of people.You ward your house. You would ward a ritual. You shield yourself or the person next to you.

It is my general belief that in order to be a competent warder you MUST have your own competent shielding, but I’m sure there are some cases to prove me wrong. Shielding is one of those basic energy workings that I’m sure you can find tons of articles and information on the web, so I’m not going to bother at the moment. Just like I’m going to pass over warding your house, lots and lots of different ways to do it and lots of people talking about it. What people aren’t talking about is warding ritual. 😉

Warding Ritual:

A lot of warding is pure preparation. Preparation is your first line of defense, gathering all the facts, identifying likely (and unlikely) problems/situations and developing strategy to handle them.

Where is your event taking place?
In a park?
In someones backyard?
At a Festival?
Indoors?

Wherever the location of the ritual is, will dictate the needs and ease of warding. You need to know your surroundings.

If it’s a park, how well populated is it? Will you need to have someone intercept stray soccerballs, and children? Someone to run interference on bystanders deciding to whip out their camera phones?

In someone’s backyard, is there a fence? If not, the same questions as above stand.

At a festival, is it outdoors or indoors? Who or what activity is going on before you or beside you?

If you are not on your own land, then you need to know the rules and wishes of your host/ess for the space you are using. It is the Warders job to ensure that these rules and wishes are respected.

Warding in space that is not your own: 

And how often is this not the case? As stated above you should always respect the wishes and rules of the owner’s of the space that you are using. If this means no burning of incense, then you find other means to cleanse the space (bell ringing, water asperging). If this means certain statues and areas are sacred and off limits, you make sure everyone is aware of that.

The more open a space, the more chance for chaotic and unwanted energies to try to get into your ritual. Being indoors, on a mundane level, means you can shut/lock doors so people who weren’t invited can’t get in. On an energy level it provides already made channels and structure to charge and keep a energetic container as closed or open as you see fit.  Fences and other physical borders can be used in the same way.

If you are outside with no fence, it is much harder to make the container, physically and magically.

There are things you can do to make it easier.

  • Mark off a boundary with warding charms (energetically charged rocks,crystals. I’ve been using nuts recently but more on that another time). Use as many or as little as you’d like, I use a minimum of three. It is also good to have one of the charms on you, that can feed your energy easily into the circuit of all the charms.
  • Meditative walk around perimeter of ritual (Prior to beginning): In outdoor rituals I’m a big fan of walking the perimeter during ritual when at all possible, but this technique takes place before the ritual starts. It involves mentally noting and imprinting the boundaries in your mind, and physically laying down your energies through walking. Animals do this all the time walking the and marking the boundaries of their territory. Just like trails become more visible and easier to tread the more they’ve been walked, the more you walk the boundary ahead of time the easier it will be for you to sense weakening/intrusions and send more energy out to bolster the container.
  • Asking for help from your guides/totems or Deities. Depending on the size and heaviness/appropriateness of a ritual dictates who I will ask for help for. Obviously at a women’s full moon ritual I’m not going to be asking Dagda to help me keep an eye on people’s energy. But if it’s some heavy shit we’re dealing with where people are likely to maybe stray too far into the veil, I might ask Morrighan. Otherwise I kept it to my animal guides. For me that’s the raven and the wolf pack. They make an excellent team energetically. The raven is a scavenger by nature and easily can pick out and devour unwanted energy if there is call for it. And the wolf being a pack animal hones in on people’s emotions and whether they are in need of help or not. If you don’t know how to ask your guides for help while warding then I suggest you not attempt it and leave it till you get to that point in your path.
  • Visualization, this is the basic technique used in personal shielding and can be applied to “shield” and ward a public ritual. Instead of focuses on seeing your shield around just you, your would focus it around the ritual itself. Visualization I mention last, because while it is the most well known of technique it is has several disadvantages.
  1. First being if you are not properly grounded centered to a greater energy force then you run the risk of burning out your own energy.
  2. Even if you are fully and properly grounded and centered you are still essentially acting like a circuit, and depending on how long and large the ritual you are warding for can & most likely will at the end feel like you’ve been completely worn out from the inside out.
  3. Sometimes the atmosphere and energy that you are warding off is just too much for your currently level of mental visualization.

This is not to discredit visualization as a warding technique, it can be used very effectively. Having more than one Warder certainly makes is more applicable technique. And in cahoots with the other techniques makes for excellent and sound warding practice.

An important note about warding in space you don’t own, it’s your job to make sure that the space is as good or better than when you came in. It’s your job to take down all your wards, help/make sure it’s all cleaned up. If you brought it in energetically make sure you take it out.

You’re prepared, ritual is about to start now what?

Warders, are the gatekeepers and guards of the fortress that the ritual is taking place within. Like all good guards they must be prepared for WAR.

Watch
Analyze
React

Cheesy huh? But it’ll stick in your head and that’s the important part. And that my friends is the job in a nutshell. Warding means you are not going to be fully engaging in the ritual. If it’s a very major ritual you might be standing outside/walking the parameter for the entirety of it. If it’s not so major then you might be following along, but your mind will be on the people and not magical working. Scan the crowd, note where the families are, where the children are. If there was someone who came in giving off an on the verge of tears vibe keep an eye on them.You’re looking for fluxes and voids in people’s energy and the container of the ritual. You’re also making sure that physical things don’t interrupt the ritual. Like if there are sirens outside the building you should go see what’s that about. Make sure that candle doesn’t light things on fire. That’s the watching part.The Analyzing part is calculating whether or not what you see needs. Is it something you can fix energetically from a distance? Do you need to get up and go get the Tender for someone, or can you just use eye contact to let them know someone is on the edge? Is someone being TOO disruptive? This is where knowing the rules of the space, the wishes and rules of your ritual or group, and you’re own common sense come into play.

Then you React to that. It’s your job to do something. Whether that something is to send the energy, or get up and show someone to the door. As a warder it falls to you.


The Little talked about aspect of Warding: Appearance:
I’m not saying it isn’t possible for you to be a 5’4″ 135 lbs woman dressed as a flower maiden and be a Warder. As a lady who resembles those statures and has been bedecked in flowers it would be hypocritical of me to think so.What I am saying is that we are visual creatures, and that collectively we react to visual social cues. This affects Warders specifically because, part of your job is being VISIBLE. High Priest/ess wear crowns and BAM! everyone automatically knows to listen when they are talking. I am an advocate of Warders being given a physical indicator of authority (an armband, a sash, a belt, a big ass stick) at larger formal events, but on a more subtle casual note a Warder should just give off a presence of confidence and control.

What this means personally, is that you need to be in a state of complete comfortable confidence in your abilities to Watch, Analyze and React.

I am a personal believer in the power given to adornments to help you get into this state of mind. Be that a necklace/tailsman of your deity, armor/boots/charm/belt/superman underwear/jacket/outfit, if it helps you feel confident and in control, wear it.

This goes deeper than the obvious though. Yes, the lady in the black leather corset and multiple knives would give anyone pause to cause trouble just as much as the 6″+ brick wall of a man in the trench coat would. But it is as much about the way they carry themselves as what they look like.

They aren’t hiding, they’re vigilant even in conversation scanning the room, head turning towards commotion and ruckus. They head over to the group that might be getting a bit too wild with steady steps and diffuses things before they even get to a low boil. They move the candles before someone’s skirt can brush the flames, they watch as people come in and as they go. Their energy is present, firm, and strong.

You may not even notice these things consciously but you will subconsciously, and should you have a problem you will be able to find them to ask for help.

Here’s a little homework assignment, next time you’re at a that ritual, or even a party. Stop for a moment and just look around, see if you can identify who is Warding. Yes even at a party you’ll be able to spot someone who is, without even being told to (or maybe without realizing it). They’ll be doing all the things I listed above. Scanning the crowd, noticing when the doorbell rings, or a phone goes off. They’ll be the one making sure the people who have had too much to drink are getting home safely.  That’s what warding is. Keeping an eye out and making sure everyone leaves the ritual at least in as good of condition as they came to it.

After Ritual:

After ritual you may feel a bit lightheaded, or heavy limbed (or any number of physical attributes that comes with moving/holding/filtering a large amount of energy). Make sure that you take care of yourself. Drink water before ritual, during ritual and after ritual. Make sure you eat something before ritual and have something to eat after ritual. Know your body. If you get serious headaches from lots of energy work, take something. Take a few moments after ritual to re-ground yourself, stretch and relax.

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.