Regular Spiritual Practice: A Script

One of the implications of acknowledging the importance of the hearth cult, and our responsibility as Pagans to tend our “hearths” is that we should be engaging in some kind of daily spiritual practice. While this may not necessarily be aimed towards the gods, in my opinion, the ancestors should be honoured on a daily basis if at all possible. Because of that, and my interest in monasticism, this year I have been endeavoring to include a daily practice of prayer in my life. Below is the script I use as I believe set liturgy is helpful for helping me be more disciplined with the practice. I post this in the hope it will help others who may want to take up such a practice.

Morning

1 – Write down dreams in Journal

2 – Prayer to Sunne
Wes Thu Hal Sunne,
Glory of Elves, heaven’s gem,
Giver of light, life and warmth,
Shine down brightly upon me.
You race through the heavens,
Day after day, year after year,
Guiding the seasons on their course.
Oh radiant golden goddess,
Fair sister of Mona,
And glorious mother of the stars,
I honour you this day,
And pray your blessings be always upon me!

3 – Prayer to Gods (from Sigdrifa’s Prayer)
Hail to the Gods! Hail to the Goddesses!
Hail to the all-giving earth!
Bless me with wisdom, with an honourable tongue,
And healing hands, for the rest of my days.
Wes Thu Hal!

Evening

1 – Kindle the Hearth Flame
(Breathe deeply a few times)
As the ancients lit the hearth fire,
So I kindle this sacred flame now,
In honour of Frige, the hearthmodor.
May she ever watch over this household.
And may I pray with a good fire.
(Light Candle)

2 – Prayer to Ancestors
Wes Thu Hal Ancestors,
Grandmothers and Grandfathers of ages past,
Beloved dead of blood, spirit and place,
Draw near my hearth I pray.
I remember and honour you this evening,
And give thanks for your wisdom,
Guidance, protection and blessings upon my life.
You whom I have loved and lost,
You whose blood runs in my veins,
You who sacrificed so much that I might be here,
I thanks you.
You who inspired and influenced my life,
You whose feet trod this sacred land before me,
You who gave your lives that I might eat and live,
I thank you.
Thank you for giving me the gift of existence,
Thank you for the example of your lives,
Thank you for the love shown,
By those of you who shared your lives with mine.
I pray that you watch over my family, my friends and I,
And grant us health, wealth and wisdom in the days to come.
Let me live a life that brings honour to you.
And may my memory of you live ever on.
Mighty ones, I light this incense for you now,
May you accept my offering this night.
Wes Thu Hal!
(Light Incense offering)

3 – Household Protection Prayer (inspired by Carmina Gadelica)
Great gods, give your blessings to this house.
Spirits, give your blessings to this house.
Crest and frame, stone and beam,
Man and woman, young and old,
Plenty of food, plenty of drink,
Much of riches, much of mirth,
Strength of body, length of life, be ever here.
Wes Thu Hal! So mote it be!

4 – Rune Casting (based on method in Germania)
(Lay out white cloth and take runes out from bag. Hold runes in hands up to forehead)
Great Norns, Wyrdae, please let me see into the Web of Wyrd, to see the threads.
Wyrd, Werdande, Skuld!
(Cast down runes on white cloth but keep eyes closed)
Woden, what do the Gods want me to know or focus on tomorrow?
(With eyes closed, choose rune and interpret it).
(Finish by bowing before altar and blowing out candle)

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The Ovate Journey Begins

I haven’t been blogging much over the past six months because I have been very busy with life and studies. I want to use this post therefore to look back over the past year, and to look forward to this one.

Last year was a very up and down time for me.  Between January and May, I had 4 different jobs, lived in two different cities, almost moved across the world again and went through a period of depression. I had felt aimless and lost after I returned from my travels abroad. But in May things turned around when I got a new job, moved in with my brother and started focusing on my new career path – training to be an accountant. Since then, things have got much better – I got out of my depression, found renewed goals in life, lost a lot of weight and have become a vegan again.

At the beginning of 2017, I began the OBOD Bardic grade course. I stopped in May for a while and then began again from the beginning in August. In August I also decided to go through the Bardic grade of the British Druid Order again too. Doing them alongside each other made for some interesting contrasts.  While I was initially skeptical about the OBOD course, when I came to do the review at the end of the year, I realised that it had actually had quite a profound effect on me. They do request that we don’t share a lot about what’s in the course so I can’t go into too much detail, but I can explain some of the effects and experiences I had.  I feel I connected with the elements – earth, air, fire, water in significant ways, in fact, I was even inspired to join the navy reserves while I was learning about the water element (and having pulled a confirmatory rune of “Ing” which talks about going across the sea in a boat). I did a visualisation exercise where I met a small bird which I have interpreted as a kind of representation of my soul or possibly a spirit animal. The two courses together inspired me to take up Poetry, so I bought a book by Stephen Fry called “The Ode Less Traveled” (a book I highly recommend for anyone interested in learning poetry) and I learned how to write poetry…something I was unable to do before. In fact, doing the Cell of Song activity at the end of the BDO course, I managed to write a 60 line poem, inspired by the Awen I believe. And there was much more.  Things that stood out to me from the BDO course in particular was the mention of the historical evidence for things like Saining (smudging) with Mugwort and the use of Sweat Lodges in Britain. The BDO is explicitly more “shamanic” and “animistic” in focus and I can see that element growing within my spirituality going forward.

I recently submitted the courses, and this week I was told that I passed both OBOD and BDO Bardic courses, and am now moving on to this years challenge – the Ovate grade courses. I am looking forward to going deeper into myself, connecting closer with nature and the spirits of nature, and developing new skills in areas like divination and herbalism. The creative side of things doesn’t really interest me much but I had to undertake the Bardic courses to access my real interest – the Ovate stuff. (That said, I got so much out of the bardic grade and it helped open up the creative side of me). Today the BDO Ovate course first module became available and I am beginning to work through it. The journey begins, I’m jumping in with both feet, excited at what is to come and how my spirituality will develop this year.

Celebrating Yule 2017

Happy Yule everyone. Also known as Midwinter or the Winter Solstice, Yule has its roots in many cultures, including Roman Saturnalia, Christian Christmas and most importantly Scandinavian and Anglo Saxon Yule. It is the longest night and the day when the Sun is “reborn.” Since the summer, the days have been getting shorter and colder, but after Yule they begin to lengthen again as we approach spring. It is a time of light and hope in the depths of cold winter.

The first mention of a midwinter celebration is in the writings of a 4th century Christian who said that at this time pagans celebrated the birthday of the sun by kindling lights, giving presents, feasting and the closure of schools and shops. However this festival of Saturnalia only began in 274ad. By the 8th century there were 12 days of celebration at Christmas. There is little evidence of celebration in Ireland before the 12th century. However, Bede, writing in 730ad said that most important festival of the Anglo Saxons in England had been “Modranicht” or “Mothers Night” on 24th December. This was the night which opened the new year and “they kept watch during it with religious rites.” The word Yule came through Danish rule over England, however there is no mention of it in early Scandinavian literature. Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson says that there was a three day celebration at this time, including a sacrifice for a good crop. Historian Ronald Hutton says “the consensus between Bede and Snorri, that the winter solstice was a major feast of the ancient Scandinavian and Norse people’s, and opened their year, is still an impressive one.” There are many records from the 4th to 11th centuries of church leaders denouncing revelries, sorcery, divination, dressing in animal skins and feasting to excess at this time of the year. Across European society, it seems to have been a time for role reversal and the relaxation of norms. Hutton says that Welsh literature also shows good evidence for a midwinter “new year’s feast.” He further states that “it was the general custom in pagan Europe to decorate spaces with greenery and flowers at festivals, attested wherever records have survived.” These were often evergreens such as holly and ivy. Despite this, many of the traditional festivities we associate with Christmas now e.g. stockings, Christmas cards, paper decorations and crackers either were invented in the 19th century or came over from Germany at that time. Other traditional Christmas festivities such as the Christmas Tree (in the Rhineland), Yule Log and Wassailing the orchards can be traced back to Tudor times but no further.

While the Celtic people’s didn’t celebrate at midwinter as far as we know, the pre-celtic people’s who built monuments such as stonehenge and newgrange to align with the Winter Solstice, probably did have some kind of festival at this time. Celtic Pagans do sometimes get involved with Wren Day on Dec 26th, guising, lighting candles for this the longest night, honouring the winter hag Cailleach,  and the usual Christmas festivities.

Norse and Anglo Saxon heathens celebrate Mothers Night (Modrinacht) as a time to honour the “Mothers”. In modern reconstructions, these “Mothers” are interpreted as goddesses and one’s female ancestors, however I think it is more likely the “Modra/ Matres” were the triple goddesses depicted on altars and votive offerings across northern and central Europe. They were linked with fate, prosperity, fertility and therefore probably similar to the Norse concept of the Norns.” Many modern heathens celebrate twelve days of Yule, a time of feasting with the burning of a yule log, meditating on the nine noble virtues, lighting candles, doing divinations and making oaths on New Years Eve.

If we look at the historical records in the Saga of Hakon the Good in Heimskringla, section 15 talks of a new Christian king who changed the date of Yule to be the same as the Christian festival of Christmas. It then says “Before him, the beginning of Yule, or the blot night, was the night of Midwinter, and Yule was kept for three nights after.” In section 16, it talks about the fact that they held a Blot (sacrifice) and a Sumble (ritual toasting) on the night. In the Hervarar Saga, it says that on Yule eve, a boar is brought in and oaths were sworn on it. The boar was sacrificed to Freyr/ Ing. In chapter 4 of the Lay of Helgi the son of Hjorvarth in the Poetic Edda, it talks of vows being taken on a boar on yule eve, and a “Kings toast” and a stay of “three nights.” When we then look at Bede, we see that the Anglo Saxons also celebrated an extra night – the 24th November, called Mother’s night, when they stayed up all night and did rituals. Their new year would therefore fall at this time. (They “… began the year on the 8th calends of January [25 December], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord. That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, “mother’s night”, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night”.) The evidence from these texts suggest Yule should begin on the evening of 21st December with a ritual of sacrifice and toasting to the gods, as well as oaths (new years resolutions) being sworn. Then there are three days of festivities, followed by another ritual to the “Mothers” or fates (and probably Frige) to pray for a good fate and prosperity in the coming year, as well as staying up on the night of the 24th December. The saga’s also suggest that there was a minimum amount of alcohol that should be drunk, and that horse meat was eaten (horse sacrifice was important to many Indo-European cultures). Interestingly, this is also the time of the Celtic horse festival of Eponalia, and perhaps is a good time to honour the Anglo-Saxon horse deities/ heroes Hengist and Horsa.

Yule signifies the height of the Wild Hunt, when a ghostly procession led by the god Woden/ Odin, and sometimes Frau Holla, marches across the night sky. It may have been a time when the dead were permitted to leave their mounds and return to the land of the living. In southwest England where I am from, this myth has evolved into a belief that it is hell hounds (known as Yeth or Wisht hounds) chasing sinners or the unbaptised. Similarly, myths surrounding Woden/ Odin and Thunor/ Thor may have contributed to our modern Santa Claus. Yule can be a time for honouring many of the gods – Woden who leads the wild hunt, Frige as the goddess of the home and hearth, Thunor for stopping the ice giants, Frey/ Ing for prosperity, Sunne and Baldur for the Suns rebirth and the winter deities Ullr and Skadhi.

Modern Neopagans like Wiccans celebrate this day with the myth of the mother goddess who gives birth to the sun god, while Druids tell of a battle between the Oak King and the Holly King, in which the Oak King overcomes the Holly King on this day and rules until Midsummer.

An interesting point made by Philip Shallcrass of the British Druid Order, is that the Sun’s “rebirth” is not actually 21st December/ the Solstice, rather, at the Solstice the Sun appears to stop in the sky for three days before actually being “reborn” or appearing to begin moving again on morning of the 25th December. Perhaps our Pagan celebrations of the rebirth of the Sun need to move to back to the 25th?

In the deepest depths of winter, it is traditional to celebrate Yule with gift giving, spending time with loved ones, decorating with evergreens and lights, having a yule tree and yule log, drinking and feasting. Wassailing is another tradition and in medieval times, villagers in southwest England would go to orchards and wassail the apple trees to scare away evil spirits and ensure a good harvest in the Autumn. To celebrate the cycles of nature and connect with the world around us, we can go out and watch the Solstice sunrise, ringing it in with the sound of bells. We can also go for a walk in nature, toasting the trees, and putting out food for the birds and animals struggling to find something to eat in the cold winter. Boxing day (26th December) was traditionally a time when the rich would give their servants the day off and provide food/ drink for them. I think dedicating this day to helping others would also be a great practice for Pagans.

My Yule feast usually includes a nut roast, sage & onion stuffing, mapled brussel sprouts with apple and walnuts, sweet & sour red cabbage, spiced swede mash, cranberry sauce and garlic & herb roast potatoes. I often make a yule log using holly,  decorate a Yule tree, spend time with family and give presents. This year I will cook a yule feast on the evening of 21st and do my ritual, in particular I will honour Sunne, my housewight, Frige and the Mothers. I will also make my resolutions for the next year. I will eat a traditional yule breakfast of porridge, go for a walk in nature to leave an offering for the nature spirits and also wassail the apple trees.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. USA: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Yule and Ritual 2017

On Thursday it is the great feast of Yule, the rebirth of the Sun. Each festival I do a ritual using the ADF format. My outline of the format can be found on my ritual page here.

When it reaches the “Statement of Purpose” section, I do the following…

Say: “As I stand here on this celebration of Yule, the sacred wheel of the year has turned once again and it is now midwinter. As my ancestors did in times before, so tonight I honour the old ways. It is the Solstice, the longest night and shortest day. Today I celebrate the rebirth of the Sun. Though the night is dark, and the Earth sleeps in winter, I await with patience the return of light and life to the world. Since the summer, it has gradually become colder and darker, but from this time forwards, the days shall get longer and lighter and warmer again. The Solar year has run its course and completed its cycle and a new year begins, bringing light, life and hope to the earth.”

Celebrating Samhain/ WinterNights 2017

Also known as Halloween or All Hallows Eve, Samhain or Winter Nights is the festival on which the ancient Celts and Anglo Saxons celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of Winter.

At this time the earth appears to die, laying dormant through the dark cold times ahead. The leaves are changing colour and falling from the trees. The harvest has been collected from the fields and they lie empty. The livestock have been brought down from the pastures, the weakest animals are being culled for food and people return to their homes for feasting. Summer is over and winter is here. The days are getting much shorter and colder, the frosts are about to begin and animals are busy making final preparations for winter. Traditionally it was believed to be bad luck to harvest anything after this date and therefore any remaining harvest is left as an offering to deities or nature spirits. It was a time to give offerings to the gods in thanksgiving for the good harvest the people had.

Historian Ronald Hutton says “A feast with ritual practices…was…well known in both ancient Ireland and ancient Scandinavia, and represented by folk practices in the uplands of Wales and Scotland. There was, however, no common rite as there had been at Beltane.” He further states that “there seems to be no doubt that the opening of November was the time a major pagan festival was celebrated” but that there is no evidence that it was connected with the dead or that it was the new year. Rather, the association with the dead came through Christianity and the development of All Souls Day. However, it was a time to guard against and propitiate supernatural forces.

Samhain is the most widely mentioned festival in Irish mythology and the Gaulish Colignay calendar also mentions it as the end of the pastoral year. It is mentioned as the first festival in the Irish tale of Tochmarc Emire as “Samhain, when summer goes to rest.” It is the time when the Morrighan and An Dagda mate in a river for victory at the second battle of Magh Tuiredh, and it is a time to honour Donn, the father of the Irish race and chief of the sons of Mil. He is the Celtic lord of the dead, the dark one who was drowned in the battle to invade Ireland. He now dwells on a small island named Tech Duinn, the waiting place of the dead before they journey to the Otherworld. In contrast, Historian Peter Berresford-Ellis says that the god Bile is also a god of the dead who transports souls to the Otherworld. Another story related to this time of harvest is the story of why offerings are given to the Tuathe De Danaan. After the Milesians (ancient Irish) conquered Ireland from the Tuatha De Danaan, the land was divided up with the Milesians on the land and the Tuathe De Danaan under the ground. But the Tuathe continued to destroy the crops and stop cows producing milk so an agreement was reached with An Dagda so that the Irish offered a portion of their harvest to the Tuathe De Danaan in exchange for their friendship and blessing on the land. The Cailleach Bheur, the old hag of winter can also be honoured at this time.

Bede said october was named “Vuinter-fylleth” as it signified the beginning of winter, while November was named “blod-monath”because this was when the annual slaughter of livestock occurred to reduce the number of animals kept through the lean months. Hutton says that pagan Scandinavia held its own major festival at the opening of winter, called winter nights, on the Saturday between 11th and 17th of October, but that there is no evidence this ever came to Britain.

For the ancient Celts who split the year into two halves, Samhain marks the transition from the summer half of the year to the winter half, from life to death. They believed that any time or place of transition was sacred. Just like Beltane, at this time the veil between this world and the Otherworld was at its thinnest and therefore the spirit world and human world could interact. As a night of liminality, transition, uncertainty, chaos and danger, it was believed that many otherworldly beings would be roaming on this night.

While there were fires lit in some areas on Samhain eve e.g. Scotland and Wales, this was not the case in Ireland, where Parshell Crosses were placed in the entrance to the house instead. Other practices at this time have included communal meals, candles being lit and prayers said for the dead, drinking and games, putting pieces of bread on windowsills for one’s ancestors, taking precautions against witches, divination by casting nuts into the bonfire to learn about death and marriage, carrying lights around in turnips and dressing up as monsters while causing mischief. It is also a time to sain and ward one’s property by walking the boundaries with fire and making rowan charms.

Gaelic reconstructionists avoid going out on this evening as the spirits as most active, or if they do, its in disguise. They light bonfires and carry flames around their property to protect and sain it. They carve turnip lanterns, hold big feasts, do divinations, give offerings to the gods and ancestors, leave food out for the dead and light candles for them. Its also a time to play games, sing songs and make a parshell cross.

Neo-pagans often celebrate this time with a dumb supper to honour the dead. For Anglo Saxons and Norse heathens, its a good time to honour Woden as psychopomp and the leader of the wild hunt across the winter skies, or to honour Hel as the goddess of death as well as the ancestors and elves. In ancient times there is evidence of the practice of burning grains on the graves of ancestors as offerings, and it may also be a good time to do “sitting out” – sleeping on old burial mounds or graves in the hope of receiving a message from our ancestors. Anglo Saxon pagans often hold a Sumbel at this time, with toasts to the ancestors.

With the revival of Paganism, the practice of ancestor veneration, a practice of the ancient Celts once dead in the western world, has begun to grow in popularity again. This practice should also be a part of our lives. Samhain is a time of remembrance. It is a time to honour those who have died, whether friends, family or ancestors. It is a time to remember them and to be thankful for the role they have played in influencing our lives. They are not gone, they live on within us through our memories and genes, and within the earth as their atoms are reincarnated into a thousand different creations. Samhain reminds us that one day, we too must die. It is a time take stock of our lives and to meditate on the cycle of life and death, confronting a topic we too often do our best to avoid.

It is traditional to celebrate this festival by eating a large feast of late harvest foods e.g. pumpkins, apples, nuts, root vegetables and barmbrack bread. It’s also the traditional time for remembering our ancestors and those we have loved and lost e.g. by visiting their graves and putting fresh flowers there. Personally, I build an altar and put photos and mementos of those I have lost recently on it. I also put up my family tree. On Samhain eve I perform a ritual of remembrance, lighting a candle for each person I am remembering and holding a minutes silence in respect. I often have a party with friends, decorate the house and eat traditional foods like Pumpkin soup, Colcannon (mashed potato with kale or cabbage), baked apples and gingerbread. I also carve a pumpkin, leave out a meal for the ancestors and drink lots of mulled cider. Apples are a particularly good offering for ancestors to leave at grave sites or on your altar as they are seasonal and represent immortality in folklore. In nearby Cornwall this time is celebrated there as Allantide, where it is customary to give an Allan apple to each family member as a symbol of good luck and children would often put it under their pillows.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Ellis, Peter Berresford.A Brief History of the Druids. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2002.

Davidson, H. R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. London: Penguin Books, 1964.

http://www.tairis.co.uk/
http://www.gaolnaofa.com/festivals/
http://gaelicfolkway.webs.com/feiseannaomh.htm

Samhain/ Winter Nights and Ritual 2017

On Wednesday it is the great feast known as Samhain or Winter Nights. During my ritual I use the following “statement of purpose”….

Say: “As I stand here on this celebration of Winter Nights, the sacred wheel of the year continues to turn. As my ancestors did in ancient times, so tonight I honour the old ways. The harvest is in from the fields and they lie empty. The livestock has been brought down from the pastures and the people return to their homes for feasting. The leaves have changed colour and are falling from the trees. All is at an end. Summer is gone, winter is coming, the frosts and cold nights wait on the other side. It is the time of rest, of contemplation, of death. It is the time of liminality and transition as tonight the veil between worlds is thinnest. It is the night of the ancestors, a time to remember, honour and feast to those who have died, our loved ones and all life throughout vast history. They are not gone but live on within me and I will remember them. Just as they have become one with the earth againso too will I someday. I thank the earth mother for all she has given me this season and for the abundance of the harvest. I celebrate and look forward to winter, a time of sacred darkness, a time to meditate on the cycle of death and rebirth.”

I also have special element in my ritual devoted to the ancestors and so I say and do the following: –

I stand before the veil on this night when it is thinnest —
I pray that those who have crossed before me hear my words.
As the season turns, as the darkness reigns,
I make my call:
Grandmothers and Grandfathers of Ages past.
Beloved Dead of Blood, Spirit and Place,
I remember and honour you this Winter eve,
And give you thanks for your Wisdom,
Guidance, Protection and Blessings on my life.
I pray that you continue this in the coming year.
You whom I have loved and lost,
You whose blood runs in my veins,
You who sacrificed that I might be here,
I thank you.
You who inspired and influenced my life,
You whose feet trod this sacred land before me,
You who gave your lives that I might eat and live.
I thank you.
Thank you for giving me the gift of existence.
Thank you for the examples of your lives.
Thank you for the love shown
By those of you who shared your life with mine.
On this holy eve of Winter Nights,
I remember and celebrate your lives
and I light a candle now in thanksgiving.
(Light a candle for each relative, stating their name as you do)
In silence I now stand to honour my ancestors.
(Stand in silence for one minute, head bowed)
Wes Hal Mighty Dead,
I pray that you watch over my family, friends and I,
And grant us Health, Wealth and Wisdom in the days to come.
Let me live a life that brings honour to you.
And may my memory of you live ever on.
Know that you remain in my heart this day and always,
Ancestors, accept this offering!

Training to be an ADF Priest

When I was younger I almost went to Bible college before being talked out of it by the pastor and youth leader of the church I was then part of (I went to a normal university instead). It was a good decision not to go, but ever since I have considered being a priest in some kind of religion. I like to help people and spirituality is a big part of my life. In my final year book at school, I was voted “most likely to become a monk.” Ironically Pagan monasticism is also something that interests me, and I am seriously considering setting up a Pagan monastery at some point.

Anyway, I have been part of the druid organisation ADF for several years now, and after going through their dedicant path course, it had a huge impact on my pagan path. I started doing their generalist study path courses this summer with an ultimate aim to consider the clergy program, but I have recently made the decision to stop procrastinating and get on with a switch to the clergy training path. I submitted my request and today I was granted permission to study the preliminary courses in preparation for the priesthood studies. I am very excited.

The program involves quite a lot of study, at least to the same standard and workload as a normal 3 year seminary course that a member of any other religion would follow. Combining this with going through the OBOD and BDO courses, I’m hoping this will mean I am able to serve the pagan community in a much deeper way than I have been able to do so before.

If you want to follow my studies, keep an eye on my ADF blog (see link at top of page).