Our Hearth Goddess

You’ve gotta have hearth
All you really need is hearth
When you’re feelin’ like your losin’ the game
That’s when the flame should start

The snowfall has come this week, and gone. And come again, and gone. And come and gone and on and on and… Wasn’t it 60 degrees this time last year? Well, winter is definitely here, and Danu’s snowy presence lies heavily on the ground around us in this part of the world. It’s natural (in more ways than one) for our thoughts to turn to indoor pursuits, to reading and knitting and house cleaning and anything else that doesn’t involve being outside in the cold. And so, in our Grove, our thoughts turn to our hearth goddess, Bríd, and her holiday, Imbolc.

At the beginning of 1996, three of our Grove members held an all-night vigil to meditate and contact a hearth goddess. We knew that the hearth goddess was an important figure to the ancient Indo-European peoples, and rather than pick one from a book, we worked with the assumption that there already was a hearth goddess out there who wanted to work with us, and that we simply needed to figure out who that was. And during the night, all three of the women had visions of a red-haired smith goddess who identified herself as Bríd, the ancient Irish goddess of the hearth, poetry, smithing, healing, and many other things.

How were we to honor her, then? One of the eight neo-Pagan high days, Imbolc/Imbolg/Oimelc/Candlemas/whatever-you-call-that-one-in-February, was already associated with Bríd (also called Brigid or Brigit at different times in Irish history, and associated with the Catholic St. Brigit), so we made her the Deity of the Occasion at our 1996 Imbolc rite, and every Imbolc since. I definitely feel that our relationship with her has strengthened throughout the years, as we’ve chosen to work with her at every High Day rite, and perform the Brídeog, and even do a few rituals for her at ConVocation.

So what are we doing this year? Well, at An Bruane this coming week, we’ll be making Bríd Crosses and a new headdress for our corn dolly, who will act as a focus point for Bríd herself during our celebrations. Next Saturday will be this year’s Brídeog, where we travel from home to home bringing her blessings in exchange for a food offering which we will donate to Food Gatherers. (If you’ve never experienced the Brídeog before, think of it as a weird cross between trick-or-treating and Christmas caroling – and if you’ve never taken part before, why not???) And of course, the weekend after that will be our Imbolc rite itself. This year, our group praise and main sacrifice will be leaning more toward her blacksmithing aspect, as we decided at our Liturgists’ Roundtable last week. (Individual praise offerings are individual, obviously, and don’t have to be blacksmith-focused.)

Oh, and one tangential point that I’ll address here: Why are we doing Imbolc so late? This year we’ll be doing our rite on the 9th, because… Well, because that was the only day on which we could rent our indoor space. No, really, someone else had the basement of the Friends Meeting reserved for the 2nd. We did have the option of using the ICC Ed Center (our usual Yule site) on the 2nd, but (a) It’s very hard for new people to find, plus it has no parking, and (b) the ICC won’t let us use candles at all, and given the strong association between Bríd and candles, we decided we’d rather do it a little late with candles than “on the right day” without. I put “on the right day” in quotation marks there because there are many different “right” dates for Imbolc. Most people choose February 2nd because that’s what the pagan books all say, and also because that’s the date for the Catholic holiday of Candlemas, which has some common themes with Imbolc. Some groups set the Imbolc date at the halfway point between the winter solstice and the Spring Equinox, which this time around is on February 4th at 12:58 PM Eastern time. ADF’s own “official” date for Imbolc is February 1st, but the ritual can be held any time within two weeks of that date and still be acceptable. Combine that with the various seasonal signs the ancients used to decide when to celebrate this holiday (the first signs of lactation in the ewes, or certain flowers first popping up from the ground) and you have a glorious mess of possibilities. So yeah, we picked the 9th because it was a Saturday and our preferred space was available. End of tangent.

And if you won’t be joining us for any of these – and given that most of you reading this on the Internet aren’t within a hundred miles of us and it would be silly to assume that you could join us even if you wanted to – there are still plenty of ways to honor Bríd this season. Getting your major housecleaning projects done with the goddess in mind is in keeping with the ancient customs of Imbolc! (Our modern variant, “spring cleaning”, seems silly to me now. Would you rather clean your house from top to bottom in the dead of winter when you were going to be inside most of the time anyway, or wait until the sun is shining from on high and the snow has melted and the flowers are in bloom?) Even a bit of writing or crafting is a good way to honor her at this, her special time of year.

Enough writing for now. I have some housework to do!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

So what the heck’s the use of whinin’?
Why should we curse?

The future is bright, ’cause we’ve been through worse!

And to help us out, we’ve got hearth

We’ve got hearth

We’ve got hearth

We’ve got hearth

Related reaing:

Fox’ article on Bríd and Imbolc Traditions: http://shininglakes.bravehost.com/deities/bridol.html

Our First Brídeog: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/brideog98.html

A Solitary Imbolc Ritual (did we really write this nine years ago?): http://www.adf.org/rituals/celtic/imbolc/slg-solimb99.html

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Motive of Purification

Blessings of the Land be upon you.
Blessings of the Sea be upon you.
Blessings of the Sky be upon you.

Every SLG High Day rite begins with a processional, where we physically move from one gathering places (the Fire Circle at our outdoor ritual site, or a separate room at our indoor sites) to the ritual space. This act of movement helps to put us into a ritual mindset, different from our everyday way of thinking, and also gets us performing together as one, beginning the process of establishing a group mind to help us work together in the ritual. (This is one of the real challenges of doing open public ritual. With new people in attendance every time, we have to put more effort into establishing group unity than the average small closed group where everyone already knows everyone else. But I digress!)

During this processional, three of us stand at various places along the path and act as Purifiers, one for each of the Three Realms of Land, Sea, and Sky. The Sky Purifier smudges each of us with incense, the Sea Purifiers anoints our foreheads with salt water, and the Land Purifier anoints our foreheads with red ochre, a kind of rust-colored clay dust. (Mud or some other form of dirt will do in a pinch, and is probably easier for other folks to obtain.) We believe that the Three Realms converge at the center of the ritual space, and so this purification not only cleanses us ritually and energetically, but attunes us to each of those Realms.

Ritual purification was definitely a big deal to the Ancients. To the ancient Greeks, purification wasn’t just a way to get yourself into the right mindset for ritual. “Miasma” (pollution) was the taint of anything mortal, such as blood or disease or death, which the Gods did not experience themselves. They believed that this miasma needed to be cleansed from their bodies before doing ritual work, to make themselves more like the Gods (cleanliness lets you be next to godliness?), the equivalent of wearing one’s “Sunday best” to a modern church service. Washing with water was considered enough to remove this miasma, though other techniques could be used as well.

While we in SLG aren’t quite as obsessed with purity issues as the ancient Greeks (thank the Gods!), purification is definitely an important part of our practices. People often phone or e-mail me when they’re thinking about attending one of our rituals for the first time, and they usually ask one or both of the following questions:

“What should I wear?”

and

“I don’t know much about what Druids do, am I still allowed to be there?”

The answer to the first one is easy: Wear clothing. We don’t do the naked thing, and given what most of us look like, that’s probably for the best. I’ll wager my unclothed body would scare the gods away more quickly than any miasma the Greeks ever knew! Yes, that’s a joke, but seriously, we don’t have a dress code. I wear robes, but I’m the Grove’s Senior Druid and a member of the ADF Clergy Council, it’s expected of me to look at least a little like a priest. If you have special clothing to wear, that’s fine, but “garb” isn’t a big deal for us.

The other question, well that always leaves me wanting to thump my head against the wall, not because someone asks it, but the knowledge that so many people out there don’t bother to ask it, but simply don’t come to our events because they don’t think they’re ready, that they don’t “know enough” to take part in our rites in a meaningful way. If you’re one of those folks, let me remind you that ADF and SLG are all about providing open and public High Day rites, meaning that we expect – indeed, hope – that new people will be there who don’t quite know what’s going on. We go out of our way to design our rituals so they’ll be easy for new people to follow while still being meaningful. And if you still doubt yourself, we even provide a flyer which explains the basic ritual outline, which you’re welcome to read before we begin. Please, please, please, never let your own inexperience get in the way of participating in our celebrations.

So, yes, we do want everyone who attends our rites to be properly prepared. But by “properly prepared”, we mean purified. And we can take care of that for you at the ritual site.

And speaking of such, next week, I’ll discuss how our Grove is gearing up for Imbolc, our next High Day.

Pure blessings be upon you!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

Related reading:

Ochre: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_ochre

The Three Realms: http://www.adf.org/articles/cosmology/worlds-kindreds.html

The First Pilgrimage

I call upon the spirits of the bards of old, Homer and Taliesin and so many others, to put silver on our tongues and fire in our heads, so that we may speak well and beautifully, and in so doing honor you and all the others we call to be with us.

I often refer to our Grove’s parent organization as “the grand experiment that is ADF”. When I call it an experiment, I’m not just referring to the general concept of running a pan-Indo-European neo-Pagan organization in the modern world, though that can be seem like a test at times. No, the grand experiment is giving a basic liturgical outline and an Indo-European focus to dozens of Groves and hundreds of members, letting them do their own research into the ways of the Ancients, letting them do their rituals and their magical workings and their social gatherings and everything else, and then comparing notes to see who’s been doing what, what’s been working well, what hasn’t been working at all, and then letting everyone get right back out there and do it again. And some folks find that either they’ve changed or the work has changed, and they leave us. That’s okay. New people come to us and share insights that we hadn’t managed to find ourselves. That’s okay too. The experiment goes on, and grows.

In the earliest days of our Grove, our founding Senior Druid was preparing for the Spring Equinox ritual, and was looking through a book of Irish mythology to find an appropriate Irish river goddess to honor at our High Day rite. He then realized how absurd it was to do a ritual to an Irish river goddess when we had a perfectly good river running right through our city, and why wouldn’t that river have a goddess who would be far more appropriate for us to honor? One late-night drive to rural Oakland County later, he and another Grove member had made the first pilgrimage to Big Lake, the source of the Huron River. Even though it was surrounded by houses (as any lake in Oakland County is, these days), they could feel a presence, something important and special, in that place. During the next few months, many more of our Grove members made the trip to Big Lake, to make offerings of stones and songs, to meditate, and to seek out contact with the goddess of the Huron River. Through dreams and trancework, she identified herself to us as Ana, and our Grove has honored her as our River Mother ever since.

And now, it’s the year 2008. Weblogs have been around for years, and yet I’ve never really participated in them. It’s not a question of not wanting to talk via a computer, far from it! I’ve been doing computer conferencing since the mid-80’s, in one form or another, and I’m as much an e-mail addict as anyone I know. But blogs were a little too much for me. Most of the ones I’d seen contained very personal, almost intimate, information, and while I love the Internet, I don’t love it in that way. But some of the other members of ADF have told me about how great blogs can be for sharing information about their Groves and their workings, and that’s always been important to me. And I figure if I’m capable of spending half an hour posing for a photographer so I can get my picture on the front page of the Detroit Free Press – a terrifying prospect for a computer nerd like me – then certainly I can risk writing a blog.

So now, just as my Grovemates once made a pilgrimage through the darkness to a place they’d never been before in the hopes of finding a river goddess, I make this virtual pilgrimage to a heavily populated online neighborhood that I’ve never visited before, in the hopes of finding a new way to share what we’ve done, and to keep the ADF experiment going and growing. I’ll be posting a new entry every Sunday, telling everyone what we’ve been doing in our rituals and at our An Bruane sessions, and fielding questions that anyone would care to lob my way. Unlike the typical pilgrim, I don’t know quite where this pilgrimage will take me, or how long it will last. But if you’re willing to join me, at least in the virtual sense, then I’m more than willing to go.

May the blessings of your own river goddess be with you!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF