As the season of Imbolc comes, and Brigid walks the land, I always feel Her fiery inspiration. There is work to do.
It's starting. Can you feel it? The light has already changed so obviously here in Oregon. Something is waking up in me. I am not usually depressed around MIdwinter. I love the dark and the long nights, and don't mind being alone at this time like some people do. But I have been deeply depressed recently.
Yesterday morning was not the first day I noticed the change in the light, but it was the first morning that it broke through my gloom and touched me in some physical way. Got through my skin. As often happens around Imbolc, a new poem for Brigid came to me.
Yes, Imbolc is coming. We think of snowdrops, and increasing light, of Brigid and the Cailleach. Some consider it a time of ascendency for the Rowan tree. I have been wanting to share a little something about this poem, called "Song" by Seamus Heaney for awhile now.
I love this for many reasons. Each mention of tree and flower seems to bring the spirit of that plant to me. The red berried rowan which has associations with witchcraft and protection, the alder which so often has its feet in the water, the rushes, the immortelles - which is another name for Helichrysum, those little button-like flowers that dry so beautifully. Then there is birdsong and "mud flowers" and dialect. It's a lot in eight lines! And the music of what happens. What about that? Well, it's referencing this:
So now you know. It's a bit Zen, isn't it? I find myself so frustrated by what is happening in our world. But I can only do what is given to me to do. Sometimes I have to accept that I am caught up in events much greater than myself, events not of my making. In the story, Stephens goes on the say that Fionn loved what happened and "would not evade it by the swerve of a hair". We spend a lot of time thinking about how to evade what might happen, not stopping to think that our energy is better spent dealing with whatever is before us. That we are better off responding to life with all the strength and beauty we can muster. That was always Fionn's way.
As the season of Imbolc comes, and Brigid walks the land, I always feel Her fiery inspiration. There is work to do.
I have recently created a chapbook of some of my other poems about Brigid and the Cailleach, written over the years. This little book is a handy size to use in rituals and devotional work.
Poems for the Season of Imbolc
Some of you will have noticed little signals in my writing - small but frequent mentions that I am not entirely happy where I am geographically. I'm homesick for Scotland in a number of different ways, and struggling to love the environment I'm living in. One of the things I have trouble with is car journeys, especially if I'm a passenger, because then I really have time on my hands to look around me and see all the things I don't like. A dry, rather colourless and windblown landscape which has suffered terrible environmental degradation, littered with the careless leavings of unsustainable and failing agricultural processes, with signs of poverty and hopeless ignorance everywhere. (Yeah, I fitted a lot of negativity into that last sentence, didn't I?) That's how I see it on a bad day, and it is one kind of truth.
The thing is, though, that since I live a long way from any amenities, I have to go places by car quite a bit, and I often find it quite distressing. Not fun. So much not fun, that I have probably been avoiding it more than I realise. However, I seem to have stumbled upon a really good remedy!
About a year ago, I signed up for a 21 day meditation challenge with Deva Premal and Mitten. Each day featured a mantra, one of which was the Moola Mantra. The words of that mantra are:
Sat Chit Ananda
Deva explains their meaning this way:
Sat - truth, Chit- consciousness, Ananda - bliss (this is also a mantra in its own right)
Parabramha - the unmanifest divine, the divine that is all around us, the air we breathe, the space that's all around us permeating everything.
Purushothama - the divine that is manifest in human beings, as our spiritual teachers, gurus, avatars, enlightened masters.
Paramatma - the soul that's within every living thing, the divine essence that's within every living thing.
Sri Bhagavathi Sametha Sri Bhagavathe - the feminine principle together with the masculine principle.
Namaha - I offer salutations (to all of the above). So to the divine in its unmanifest form, then channelled into our teachers and gurus, then coming to the universal understanding of everything being divine, of everything being a reflection of the divine perfection and then the dance of the feminine and the masculine energy like a yin and yang at the end of the mantra.
It's so easy to acknowledge the divine in things we like, or people we like. In pretty things. Less easy to do so in the things we find ugly, in people or actions we find ill-intentioned. It's easy to forget that the unmanifest divine somehow permeates all. It's easy for me to feel that if I don't fight the things I don't like, then somehow they win and I have given up. But I think that just creates blocked energy rather than the flowing energy with which I am able to create and to manifest useful change. But back to the Moola Mantra...
I loved this mantra so much the way Deva explained it. To look around me, and remember that the divine is in everything is very good for me. I also loved her musical interpretation of this, and found out that there is an entire fifty minute version. I bought a copy. It seemed like good driving music, so I put it in my car. Well, maybe you can see where this is going ...
It has helped immensely. Whether that's because, as some believe, the Sanskrit words of mantras have some extra mystical power, or because I have connected with their meaning at a conscious level, or just something in the music - I feel better connected to the landscape, more lovingly connected, and much calmer. And I think that this effect has filtered out a bit into the rest of my time, as well.
I sometimes feel chronically depressed for long periods, so when I saw this book on a list of review requests I thought "Great, maybe I'll get some free help!" The idea of a self-help book on depression, written from a Pagan/Druid perspective, was intriguing. When I saw that it was by Cat Treadwell, of whom I think highly, I definitely had to read it.
Speaking subjectively, I found much in Facing the Darkness that I think could be useful, but also much that was painful to think about. Thankfully, this is not a book of twee, inspirational passages or bullet-point presentations guaranteed to "fix" you if you just try hard enough. It's a book which acknowledges how grindingly awful depression is, and then says, "Well, since we're here, let's take a look at what's going on, shall we?" It also is written in such a way as to allow that examination to be deeply personal.
“Do not be judgemental here. None of this is ‘bad’ (or ‘good’) – it just is. These are your ‘symptoms’. Get to know them, and you can work on changing their effect on you.” is a typical quote from the book.
Interspersed with Cat's writing, are a number of short contributions from Pagans who have struggled with depression. Some of these made very good reading, and I think that it was a fine idea to include them. Everyone who picks this book up will probably find identification with some of these writers.
At just over a hundred pages, Facing the Darkness is quite a manageable length, and is definitely a book to dip into, rather than requiring a cover-to-cover approach. Of course I did read it cover to cover, because of this review, but I think that the way I would get the most out of it is to go back and mark the passages that I know will be helpful when I find myself in a dark place.
If this book has a fault, it might be lack of enough organisation. Although an attempt has been made to set the "exercises", or what I would call "things worth trying when you need a bit of help" apart by using bold print, I found it hard to locate passages I liked when I went back to look for them. Somehow the many short chapters make the book as a whole a little amorphous.
I do think that the best way to use this book is as a kind of first-aid kit. Look it over, mark the bits that you think will help you the most, and keep it somewhere handy. Thank-you, Cat Treadwell, for taking the time to write this!
Thoughts about mountains and the Cailleach
This card came up as my personal daily draw recently, and I thought I would give this essay an airing on the blog - although I wrote it some time ago. It seems appropriate to the season, as many celebrate Latha na Caillich (Day of the Cailleach) on March 25th.
Imagine standing, looking at a mountain, knowing you are going to have to climb it. Okay, for some people, mountain climbing is an enjoyable sport, but if you fall into that category, chances are you have still felt daunted by the prospect at times. Perhaps you thought "I'm afraid the weather is against me today," or "It looks scarier than it did in the guidebook," or "I wish I'd brought more rope." However, the seasoned mountain climber knows that you can only climb one step at a time, so all you can do is begin, and see whether you can do it. Very often, it's those of us who stand at the bottom making up stories to frighten ourselves, or who simply feel like we can't be bothered, who suffer the most. We are afraid of failing, afraid of falling, prefer not to leave our comfort zone, and yet, somehow we know that until we make the attempt, we are going to be a little bit miserable, knowing that it's still ahead of us.
The Paps of Jura- J Samara
Mountain - Resistance and perceived difficulty. The results of bad temper or anger.
In the 1960s, Donovan wrote the song There Is a Mountain, about illusion and perceived reality. The refrain went
First there is a mountain
The thing is - this card is about perceived difficulty. It's about our fears and our excuses, and our million and one avoidance techniques. After all - what is "difficulty" but a transient experience, a brief challenge or unpleasant period. While we can spend months, years, even an entire lifetime, sitting at the bottom of the mountain eaten up by our emotions, losing respect for ourselves, dreading it. It's enough to make us very angry.
Anger, of course, is the other aspect of this card. In Scotland in particular, and also in Ireland, many mountains have associations with a character known as the Cailleach.(The word means "veiled one" but in the vernacular, has come to mean old woman.) There is no simple tale that I can tell you, to explain the Cailleach. The stories are quite varied and often very local, and in areas where Gaelic was never the common language she is sometimes known as the "Carlin" (old woman or witch) or even "Queen of the Witches", she is also usually a giant. As well as her associations with many high mountains, such as Ben Nevis and the Paps of Jura, the Cailleach is associated with deer, with winter and bad weather, with holding prisoners (including the goddess Bride) and other general mayhem, including the very dangerous, and very real, Corryvreckan whirlpool. Some consider her to be a representation of the Crone aspect of the triple goddess, and this seems perhaps a likely explanation for how she made her way into folklore. However, she may have existed in some form before the coming of the Celtic tribes, as a weather goddess, perhaps, whose story was later interwoven with the Celtic pantheon at a local level. It seems, too, that she simply became the embodiment of human fears, frustrations and acts of anger in a more general way. A common theme in her stories is her anger at being old and ugly, and her desire to make others suffer, too - by keeping them in the grip of winter, by holding them prisoner, by raising storms and so on. We can leave these questions to the scholars to unravel - I don't think they ever will.
On a metaphorical level, I believe the Cailleach, with her anger and frustration exists in all of us. The prisoners we hold are often ourselves. The anger is really aimed inward, although we may make life unpleasant for others by expressing it. The more negative aspects of the Cailleach are a great example to us of how not to live our lives - in anger and, bitterness, trying to control others and cause them trouble. We do not make things easier for ourselves with this behaviour, we just trap ourselves in a discouraging and repetitive cycle. Every time we do this, we make the mountain a little higher - or at least we think we do.
Even if we have what looks like a mountain to climb, even if we feel we didn't create it, even if it was created by someone else's anger or controlling behaviour, or forces of nature, none of that really matters. The Mountain is no big deal. Things probably look better, even from 100 metres up. The big deal is our perception.
If you enjoyed this, you might also like We Need to Talk About the Cailleach.
I am learning what works for me, and it isn't just one "miracle thing". I am highly suspicious of anyone who says that their "miracle thing" will fix me once and for all. What the years have taught me is an assortment of things that work for me. Depending on how things are going, my personal list of helpers includes Bach Remedies, aromatherapy, EFT, and the occasional dash of Release Technique/Sedona Method. None of these things are really core practices for me, although they might be for some people. My core practices are meditation, prayer, and also things like good nutrition, exercise and contact with nature. Sometimes it's easy to keep some of these up, and sometimes it's easy to keep them all up -- and occasionally it's hard to even get out of bed in the morning.
I've written a couple of times, recently, about my involvement with the new Solitary Druid Fellowship project. (See Life on and Island and Sacred Stewardship) and how finding more rhythm to my practice is proving helpful to me. Earlier, in Accepting the Salmon's Gift, I also described the process of creating ways to encourage myself to do things like say a prayer or meditate more regularly. Sometimes, I need inspiration to do these things, and so creating a beautiful image or poetic words helps draw me toward the thing I need. At other times, the issue is simply that I need a reminder, or I forget all about my good intentions. I need something on the wall, on my desk, my fridge door, by my bed, etc. to remind me. If it is also beautiful, then my inspiration is there, too. Over time, habits develop, and these short moments that punctuate my day are becoming second nature, and giving me more rhythm and balance.
There are now six guided meditation cards, and four prayer cards in the webshop, which I have created to help others in their search for daily rhythm and inner balance. I have grouped them in various ways that I hope will be appealing, or you can buy them singly in any combination you wish. I know that some people only want the meditation cards, so you can buy them in separate set, and now I also offer the four prayer cards as a set, for those of you who would like to explore their use.
There are two "Shamanic" prayers which someone gave to me. I have adapted them, and have found them so helpful that I use them daily. (I wrote more about them here.) The other two prayers are taken from the Scots Gaelic collection known as the Carmina Gadelica. One is an eventing prayer for protection of the household, the other a charm for the protection of horses, which I adapted slightly from a cattle blessing. You could alter it to suit your own animals if you wish.
Well, that's enough from me for today. Have a great equinox, everybody! <3 Kris
Generally, I'd be instantly sceptical at the use of the words Celtic and shaman in the same sentence. So I forgive you if you are having the same reaction! However, here is my little story about how these prayer cards came into being.
In the spring of this year, I was feeling particularly frustrated by some aspects of my life. These aspects didn't feel easy to resolve, and at the same time I was having difficulty "accepting the things I cannot change". A perfect recipe for depression, anger, anxiety and sleepless nights. I had all of those things, and on a few occasions, the sleepless nights became real waking nightmares of anxious circular thinking where I even considered that the only way out might be to end it all. No, don't worry, I was a long way from the verge of doing so, but let's just say I can now better understand the hopelessness that can make that decision seem like the best one. That said, I was getting on with my life as best I could the rest of the time - as one does.
On a day, my friend Linda and I decided to visit our local new age fair. My intention was simply to walk around and see who/what I was drawn to. I was aware that I could use some help, and hoped I might get some. Almost immediately I did feel very drawn to a fellow offering Peruvian Shamanic work. He didn't look Peruvian, that's for sure, but there was what I can only describe as a really good vibe coming from him. I eventually headed over and had a session with him. He did some things with my chakras which made absolutely no sense to me, and also suggested that I needed to have some cords cut. Well, I had heard of chakras, and this cord cutting idea before, and he did what he did - which still didn't make a great deal of sense to me, and I didn't really "feel" anything, but I did feel a bit better, perhaps.
After we were done, he gave me a piece of paper with some prayers on it. One was a prayer for cutting cords, another a bedtime prayer. I kept the paper, but somehow, just didn't feel comfortable saying some of the words that were on it. It just wasn't me. However, I was feeling better. Afraid that I was going to slip back into my personal misery again, I decided that I would do what felt right for me, and after a couple of days, I re-wrote the prayers in a way that did feel right for me. It was an interesting process, remembering to do small things (like say these prayers) on a regular basis. I wrote a couple of pieces about this at the time, called Salmon in the Weir and Accepting the Salmon's Gift.
As it turned out, this process was the beginning of my creation of the meditation and prayer cards that I sell in the shop. Having re-written my prayers, I printed them off on the computer and glued them to some pictures I liked. Pictures which embodied the kind of natural beauty that feeds my soul and that symbolises what I am moving toward. I put these on the walls of my bedroom. The cord cutting prayer is by the mirror which I pass every time I go through the bedroom door. The bedtime prayer is above my bedside table, where I will be sure to see it as I'm getting ready for bed. My life has improved a lot, I believe, because I took the time to put those pictures on my wall. I felt inspired enough by them to put in the time (just a few minutes a day) and it has made a difference.
Ever the entrepreneur, it occurred to me that other people might like something like that. It is such a simple thing, but something beautiful, with some beautiful words to say, or (as in the meditation cards) a short, easy, thing to do, makes it so much easier to take action! I have wanted to make cards for those two original prayers for a long time. However, it didn't feel right to do that until I had talked to my shaman friend. I needed to know that he was okay with it. Well, I finally had that opportunity last month, and he was very okay with it. Yesterday, I felt inspired to get the graphic work done, and the results are what you see above. I haven't written the material for the backs, yet, or given much thought to whether I am creating another set of four cards here.
Hmmmmm... that might depend on your feedback. What would you like to see?