Handfasting: A Modern Solution

Is the practice of modern handfasting the solution for a culture ditching marriage as a flawed institution?

I did a short research paper (the study kind, not the research kind) about the cohabitation effect. It has been repeatedly proven that marriages in which the partners live together before marriage are less happy and have higher divorce rates than couples who wait to live together (Rhoades et al.). Considering that over 70% of marriages involve prior cohabitation (Rhoades et al.), this is a pretty big deal.

Dedicated Couples are Happier

Recent studies (Rhoades et al) have shown that couples who lived together after engagement were as happy as couples who only lived together after marriage, reflecting that the dedication component has a lot to do with it (see below for more on dedication vs constraint). There was also a lot of information on constraints that lead to people living together prior to marriage being the same after marriage, leading to the frustrations of those marriages. The gist was that dedication prior to living together reflects happier marriages and “sliding into” cohabitation reflects constraints that result in less dedication, less happiness, and more divorce.

Photo by: L Stern Media
Photo by: L Stern Media

What they also found, unintentionally (so much so that the authors intentionally neglected it), was that partners who lived together after engagement but prior to marriage were HAPPIER than the partners who lived together only after marriage, reporting higher levels of relationship satisfaction, relationship confidence, and friendships with their partners. The relationship satisfaction was as much higher than the marriage-only group as the marriage-only group was higher than the pre-engagement group. That’s a pretty big deal, especially when considering all the data out there on how much marriage is being abandoned as an option, with many people never marrying and many divorcees never remarrying, especially divorced women (McGoldrick et al.). Research is finding that women are doing poorly in marriages unless they’re very good marriages, while men do pretty well in marriages regardless, seeing benefits of marriage that women don’t get (McGoldrick et al.). Poor women are more likely to be abused in marriages, making marriage a rather poor option for them, locking them into relationships that become difficult to escape in spite of pretty significant abuses (McGoldrick et al.).

Handfasting as a Potential Solution

Photo by Lydia Stern www.lsternmedia.com
Photo by L Stern Media

What is very interesting to me about this engagement effect is the question of what handfasting as a cultural phenomena does to partnerships. The hypothesis would be that partners who decide to handfast prior to living together form happier marriages, but I wonder if handfasting creates happier partners regardless of ever reaching marital status and I wonder if handfasting mitigates the pre-engagement cohabitation effect. Since handfasting can be practiced like a perpetual engagement that may or may not lead to marriage, partners can choose to be dedicated without undergoing the institutional marriage, with all its constraints and cultural downfalls, or they can convert their relationship to a recognized marriage. I wonder if handfasting is really the next step in creating happy relationships for our modern culture as it ditches the problems of our culture’s ideas of marriage, while still having partners who strive for dedicated partnerships.

Dedication vs Constraint

If you’re interested in seeing how well your relationship fares in these areas and improving upon them, I highly recommend seeing a trained relational therapist (called a Marriage and Family Therapist) long before your relationship is looking at the divorce option. Considering this research on dedication and constraint, it could be helpful to look at these factors in your own relationship. Constraints to marry include social pressures, economic pressures, pregnancy, children, immigration status, health status, and other factors that make a partner feel they have no other options. Constraints are reasons you might feel stuck in an unhappy relationship, whereas dedication is a matter of what makes you want to stay. Dedication is considered with questions of identity as a unit, willingness to sacrifice personal wants for the well-being of your relationship or partner, making decisions and planning together, a sense of a longterm future together, sharing of life’s burdens, and making the relationship a priority over things that could damage it. The more dedicated a partnership is, the less any constraints are likely to be a problem. When people enter into a partnership with eyes wide open, they can see what of the societal messages, economic situations, family plans, and relational dynamics might cause problems for them into the future so that they can work on these areas, determining what they would like to do as individuals and as partners in a chosen family.

References

McGoldrick, M., Preto, N. G., & Carter, B. (2016). The Expanding Family Life Cycle: Individual, Family, and Social Perspectives (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009). The pre-engagement cohabitation effect: A replication and extension of previous findings. Journal Of Family Psychology, 23(1), 107-111. doi:10.1037/a0014358

 

This article was written by Christina Slomski, a student at Regis Univeristy studying Marriage and Family Therapy and Depth Psychotherapy and Sun Mountain Spring’s Priestess of Sea at the writing of this article.

Big thanks go out to Lydia Stern of L Stern Media for permission to use her beautiful photography of handfasted couples from Vinotok 2017.

Holiday Blessings!

wheel winter trees

Holiday Blessings!

What a wonderful Samhain we had, with over 50 people in attendance at our fourth annual Samhain Spirit Trail! We kicked off the transition from summer to winter with fire, stories and plenty of food! We can’t thank enough all those who volunteered and contributed to this festival. Big thanks to Catamount Institute in particular for opening their building to us, to our station hosts and guides Cernunnos, Odin, Katrina/Mother Death, the Raven Woman, and our Faery storyteller, as well as our Mother Earth who took funds and all those who helped with planning and implementing, hauling pumpkins, fire tending and everything else that made this event so smooth and fun. We had our best turnout and our greatest amount of positive feedback this year, and it’s all thanks to every one of you who came and helped in any way. Thank you!

In the Celtic year, Samhain marked the end of the year, the beginning of winter, but also a between-time, as it was not quite summer and not quite winter. It still serves this purpose, being a marker for that wild liminal time we call “holiday season,” lasting from Samhain to the New Year, and how better to demarcate it, from “ye olde” New Year to the “new” New Year? We have many holidays in this liminal time, with visits from ethereal beings, saints, ghosts and spirits, fairies, gods and strange animals, wild hunts and blessings in the strangest places. Who visits you in your dreamtime escapades to the Otherworlds?

At this time of turning within, we mirror the inward gaze of the Land as her energies are conserved and the necessary motions are made to prepare for new growth in the coming year. What are the messages of the Lands you love and the peoples of these Lands for you? What inner wildness awakens with the stirrings of the Wild Hunts? What passions will drive you to face your fears and darkness, to release your True Self from the shackles of your life’s winter?

November & December Events

You can find information about our events, gatherings and meetings at our Facebook page. We recommend subscribing to the Facebook events page to get the most up-to-date reminders and information. Finally, we are in the process of creating and considering different models for children’s circles that would meet on Wednesday evenings. If you have any interest, would like to share things you’d like to see in children’s circles or have any location suggestions, please contact us or sign up on one of the links around this site.

Happy Holidays!

Beginning the Harvest

Lughnasadh is a wonderful holiday full of movement and action. I love the food and the harvesting of wild berries. I loved making grain dolls and horses. I love gathering flowers and I love hiking up to a hill as a symbolic act of the climb I’ve made in the rest of my life up to that point. I love the gatherings and the campouts that happen for us around Lughnasadh, and I love the return of the rains that herald the end of fire season here in Colorado. Visiting a spring, playing in the local streams, and watching the rains and thunderstorms is a favorite August activity of mine, not to mention the abundance of local food at farmer’s markets, street markets, gardens, parks, and grocery stores. The inner life of Lughnasadh is also powerful and the completion of inner work celebrated at this time is independently uplifting.

wheat sheafLughnasadh falls around the beginning of August and goes by many names in the Celtic lands including Gwyl Awst, Lunasa, Laa Luanys, and Gouel an Eost. This marks the first major harvest of the agricultural season and is also known today in Ireland as Garland Sunday, Height Sunday, Fraughan Sunday, and Domhnach Crom Dubh. In Wiccan traditions, most celebrate this festival as Lunasa, Lughnasadh or Lammas. These various names reflect the many activities and emphases for this holiday.  August, meaning “harvest,” is reflected in the names Awst and Eost. The celebrations of the god Lugh are shown in the names of Lughnasadh and Lunasa. Lammas, meaning loaf-mass, reminds us the grain harvest and reflects the Catholic mass held for this holiday. Some names reflect specific activities, such as collecting flowers to adorn people and places, climbing a prominent hill or mountain of the area, and the collection of bilberries, ie. the fraughan harvest. In modern Ireland, the holiday is celebrated on the last Sunday of July, giving the holidays with “Sunday” in the name part of their titles. The name of Domhnach Crom Dubh honors the “dark crooked one” who brought cultivation knoDollwledge to Ireland and is honored by bringing the first corn harvested to the top of a hill and burying it there in his honor. This is not a beneficent figure and is similar to Balor, as he was also overcome by Lugh for the benefit of the people and through his death we are given the ability to have successful agricultural communities. A note on “corn” is worth making here. In the U.S., “corn” always refers to the maize crop, but the word actually refers to whatever the prominent grain is of a region. Thus, corn dollies and corn that is harvested and brough to Crom Dubh is not at all referring to maize when one is speaking of Northern European traditions.

The day is known for many activities, some of the more prominent being the games of Tailtiu, known as Lugh’s foster mother, whose clearing of the plains of Ireland allowed for agriculture, a task that took her life in its undertaking. This was also the wedding day of Lugh and is considered one of the good days for a wedding, though not as commonly recognized as such in modern pagan festivities. Rather, the aspects of this holiday as centering around the grain harvest takes center stage for many Wiccans, with bread baking being a common pre-celebration activity. For our Celtic Reconstructionists among us, the day is often one to climb a nearby hill or mountain and visit a spring, with spring visits happening for all of the fire festivals, as we are blessed with proximity to numerous sacred springs. Ritual enactments of the battle of Lugh and Balor may take place, and even if not, stories will be inevitably told of this battle or of Lugh’s birth to Cian (of the Tuatha de Danaan) and Eithne (whose name means kernel), a Fomorian and daughter of Balor and his subsequent life in the Land Beneath the Waves and his defeat of the Fomorians.

The games and competitions of Lughnasadh recall for me the battle between the Fomorians and the Tuatha de Danaan, recalling the struggle between light and dark at the turn of the year. These games were said to be in honor of Lugh’s foster mother’s death, whose story strikes me yet again of the sacrifice or overcoming of a Fomorian power in order to hold the power of the Land for the good of the people. Tailtiu, Domhnach Crom Dubh, the Cailleach who is the first sheaf of corn in Scotland, Balor, and other cruel dictators and harvest-witholding characters that must be overcome for the good of the people all represent the powers that must be overcome or give up something in order for the people to live.

For me, this holiday also reminds me of Lugh’s fosterage and the Welsh Lleu’s parentage. Lugh, after his birth to Eithlin and Cian, is in danger of his life due to the prophecy that he would be the death of Balor. He is tossed to the sea, where he is saved by seals and taken to the land of Manannan Mac Lir, the host of the feast in Eamhain Abhlach, the Land of Apples. It is during his fosterage in the Otherworld that he learns all the arts that give him the name of the samildanach, the many-gifted one, and from whom he gains the aid of the sidhe when he goes to battle with the Fomorians.

harvestAs for Lleu, who shares some similarities in his story with Lugh, he is the son of Arianrhod who is cursed to have no name, no skills, and no ability to wed any human woman. Correlating with this story from the Mabinogian, deeper aspects of this holiday, for me, involve reminders of the process of the cycle itself, the work it takes during one’s “fosterage” on the Isle of Apples and all the skills that we learn, the fullness of experience we can gain from the inner work we undertake, as well as the understanding of self-identity, the skills, and the creation of our flower-faced desires in our lives. Arianrhod as a weaver goddess gives me a sense of being able to harness the skills, self-understanding, and visions for the future into something that can take form in our lives, just as she was able to give Lleu the challenges that led him to seek out these for himself. Unlike Lleu, Lugh has no indication of needing to use trickery to gain his skills in the Otherworld, but he does need to overcome great obstacles in the form of defeating Balor, his grandfather, and in the harnessing of Tailtiu’s powers through her clearing the fields for agriculture and subsequent death. Like Arianrhod, these Otherworldly powers are defeated in some way to gain what is needed, in Lugh’s case for the agricultural cycle of the tribe to be possible, and in Lleu’s case for the personal journey of self-identification, actualization, death and rebirth. The inner work of Lughnasadh is powerful, especially if you are undertaking inner work on an annual cycle, for with the inner work, one has a collection of points to look back upon a spiraling path of clear progression.

Another association I want to draw here is the one of the sidhe folk who come to fight against the Fomorians with Lugh in the battle of Magh Tuireadh. This, I feel, is significant because the people of the sidhe, the folk of the Otherworld, do not usually come up to the land of the tribe to fight for the people and it leads me to thinking of how the work of the Otherworld journey makes you not only capable of having many skills, talents, self-understanding and the ability to fashion your own destiny, but it brings to you the force of the Otherworld to stand beside you as you battle your own foes. This isn’t just a solitary journey, but one giving you many tools and aids to call upon in times of need. The gates will be opened to you, for you know who you are. The royal seat will be opened for you, as you will be seen capable of leading the way in service to the people. Otherworldly powers will come to your aid and fight alongside you. You will celebrate and be capable of bringing light where there was darkness, and cooling waters where there was only scorching sun.

 

References:

Kondratiev, Alexei. 2003. The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual. Citadel Press: New York.

Marshall, Ruth. 2003. Celebrating Irish Festivals: Calendar of Seasonal Celebrations. Hawthorn Press: Gloucestershire, UK.

Telyndru, Jhenah (AW). 2005. Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery, and Inner Wisdom. Llewellyn Publications: Woodbury, Minnesota.

 

 

Bealtaine

Bealtaine, Beltane or Gwyl Mair is a Celtic holiday celebrating the return of summer and end of winter. As such, it sits at the opposite point of the circle from Samhain and Calan Gaeaf. The names of the holiday reflect that it istarot-lovers celebrated in May, as in Calan Mai in Wales or the modern English May Day, or that it is a celebration of the sun’s return, as we see in Bealtaine and Beltane, where “Bel” offers a nod to a solar deity Belenos and also to the fires lit to honor his power and bring it to the community for cleansing, offering a doorway through which to pass into the new season. These fires featured dominantly in the Celtic Bealtaine, as opposed to the more Germanic May Day festivities. Indeed, Germanic summer solstice festivities were more likely to have bonfires than their May Day celebrations, and even now in many Celtic countries, this has become the custom, with solstice fires replacing May fires.

When visiting Ireland in 2005, I was able to attend festivities for Bonfire Night, the summer solstice, in which the fires were lit much like they describe in the old stories. Fires lit along the coast, seeming to follow a pattern set forth millennia before, such that they knew which fires to watch for and when to light their own. We sat on Inish Mor after seeing pilgrims praying at the local springs and in the evening we saw the children light the fires of summer and watched the community burn away all those things that no longer served them since the last fire – old nets replaced by new ones crafted in winter, old cable wheels, old clothes no longer needed, all sorts of things.

I do feel that this holiday has taken on many of the old traditions of Bealtaine. We see similarities between the tales of St John the Baptist and solar deities of the Celts and also in the activities prescribed for certain magical acts involving plants and activities on St John’s Day (the summer solstice). It seems that many of the old Bealtaine sacred actions have simply moved a few weeks later in the year to better fit the more Germanized British culture and Christianity. Some of these activities include the gathering of plants sacred to St John on the solstice before the morning dew has evaporated, because the plants will be most potent at this time, as compared to the activity of gathering dew from plants on the morning of Bealtaine in order to bless people, offer healing, or wash one’s face to remain fair and beautiful.

Adoption of a new calendar is a big reason I see for having moved many of the Celtic Bealtaine celebrations to the solstice, also accommodating for a holiday now on May 1st, the Germanic May Day. This date is not the day the Celts would have celebrated Bealtaine, at least in Ireland, for the hawthorn, the May Tree most often referenced as the tree whose flowering branches were paraded about as a show of the willingness of even the thorny Hawthorn Giant to give in to the warmth and growth of spring, does not even today flower until mid-May, and then there would have been a few more weeks in which to have the festival. For the Celts, this holiday was meant to mark a time of flowering upon the land, and putting it literally on May 1st, with all the same festivities of their former mid-May celebration wouldn’t have worked so well as moving it a month down the way, essentially splitting the festivals into a more Germanic version of a May celebration and a solar welcoming of summer in June.

So when to celebrate? Ancient markers for this holiday would have included signs on the land and in the sky. taurus-watercolorThe blooming of a significant tree to the community would be required, such as the hawthorn for many Celtic peoples, as has been mentioned above as happening in mid-May for Ireland and here in the Colorado Rockies as well. Then too the stars would have had to align for the right time. The ancient Celts watched the Pleiades as the marker for Samhain and Bealtaine transitions, with the Pleiades rising just before sunrise at Bealtaine and just after sunset in the season of Samhain. This places the astronomical marker of Bealtaine at about May 5th. If using modern astrological renderings, the exact point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice would be when the sun reaches 15 degrees Taurus, or also around May 5th. If aligning with the moon, one would typically celebrate at the full moon in May, though some choose the first full moon in Taurus, which can make for the earliest date of these. And finally, one could choose the calendar date set by the Pope in 1582, which set back the date by nearly two weeks for most Europeans at the time. This is, of course, May 1st. Celebrating May Day most appropriately fits on May 1st, of course, though all of the same festivities might not fit for such an early date. It becomes a question then of celebrating both May Day and a later Bealtaine, perhaps even moving festivities to the solstice, keeping Bealtaine activities on a rather early date for land signs in the May 1 celebrations, or celebrating Bealtaine at a time that matches with the signs on the land and not celebrating on May 1st. I tend to feel that the more celebrations, the merrier, and I enjoy wishing my grove a happy 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Bealtaine for a month or two. I now see these holidays as periods of time, not exact moments, though I certainly can feel the shift of the seasons at times or I notice some sign on the land that the season has come. For here in the Colorado Rockies, mid-May seems to be even a little early for Bealtaine and one is safer from the cold reaches of winter by waiting until the weekend around the 15th, at the earliest and only if you’re not above 9000’ elevation, though a party or gathering on the 1st is certainly in order, as well as a good campout in June.

The Celtic holiday marks a time when darkness and cold have finally lost enough strength that the people’s king can come to power and free the Earth Goddess, who has chosen him as her lover and consort, for the success of the people through the season of warmth, light and growth. While the darkness has kept the growth of the land hidden and trapped all through the winter, the sacred king has been growing and strengthening. He has found his love, a woman of the earth’s power who is made of earth, literally made of the growth of the land, being sometimes made from flowers, such as the Welsh Blodeuwedd, or has flowers grow wherever she steps, as does Olwen, and such as the Irish Blathnat “little flower,” or Lugh’s Fomorian mother Eithne, whose name means “grain.” Many love stories from around the world that include a man searching for a way to resolve the problems of his people and finding just the right maiden in the most peculiar of places reflect the story and can be appropriate for the May festivities celebrating the uniting of the lovers and the loss of strength held by the winter powers not benevolent towards human survival and their crops.

Those winter powers, as Arianrhod at the beginning of the Welsh story and as Blodeuwedd at the end of it, are uninterested in the survival of the people. These powers were often represented as either male or female, and sometimes even as dragons and beasts. Even today, many Beltane celebrations in Celtic countries and Celtic diaspora celebrations involve dragons, and St. John was known to stop the diseases caused by dragons “dropping their seed into the wells and the coursing waters” and thus causing disease. He did this by lighting fires on his day, giving another clue about why he is celebrated at this time of year also. Indeed, even the lore shows clearly that St John is the counterpart to Christ, with their days standing at opposite ends of the year and their powers waxing and waning opposite each other, much like other Celtic seasonal gods, for as the power of St John wanes until the winter solstice, Christ’s begins to wax at that time, at his birth.

The Hawthorn Giant is another manifestation of the winter powers. The Giant’s requirements of Culhwch in his quest to win Olwen lead to his loss of power and then his subsequent flowering. Balor of the Baneful eye is another such entity, being the father of Eithne who would keep her locked in a tower forever if it weren’t for Cian finding a way to her and releasing her fertility for the good of the people, yielding a son, Lugh, who would serve as a bridge between the land and people and allow the people to live. Arianrhod is another of these winter powers, whose curse upon her son Lleu to never marry a woman of any race now on the earth results in he and his uncle conjuring up a wife out of flowers for him, whose name is Flower Face, Blodeuwedd. It is the celebration of the union of Eithne and Cian, of Lleu and Blodeuwedd, of Culhwch and Olwen, of Land and Tribe. This is the celebration of Bealtaine.

Other activities and themes of Bealtaine mirror the movement from winter to summer. There are tales of the fairies moving between their summer and winter homes, which is also associated with the summer solstice in some communities. Many people take steps to protect themselves, their children, farmlands and cattle at this time from the fairies. Also moving from their winter to summer homes are the cattle, going up to the summer pastures. With all things moving with the shifting of the seasons and the land, many things needed to be blessed, to remove any harm from harsh winter and to bring in the new. Farmlands, households, and family members were blessed. In old days, work and rent contracts were renewed or changed at Bealtaine, and in good festival style, parades and processions were had. There were games and, as at other powerful transition times, divinations were popular. Considering the themes of the day, love and marriage divinations were common, obviously in opposition to the death divinations of Samhain. Many traditional activities for the summer solstice in Ireland also likely carried over from old Bealtaine celebrations include jumping or stepping over the bonfire three times if you are setting forth on a new activity for the year, to ensure health, a safe birth, blessings for a young couple, etc. The St John’s fire’s embers were sent home with all the households to bless them and relight their fires. A new house had to have its fire first lit by the embers from this fire, and even a house accidentally set upon a fairy path could be corrected using the ember from Bonfire Night. In a modern Steiner school in Co. Clare, St John’s is the last festival of the school year and everyone jumps the fire at the end of the festival, including the young children, and all sing songs, play games, dance around the fire, and make bundles of green grass tied and thrown into the fire with a wish for the future or a request of something to be removed from their life. These are all modern activities still seen in many schools and communities in Ireland, some revived, some revisioned, and some long standing.

In modern pagan communities, Beltane is a more common celebration than Calan Mai, Beltane leaping the firethough some do call it May Day. Wiccans celebrate both Beltane/May Day and the Summer Solstice, as well as some Druids, much like the modern Celtic peoples, but the pagans celebrate the fertility aspects of Beltane and the union of the god and goddess, albeit a few weeks early for the old Celtic markers on the land. Beltane is often seen as a fertility celebration and many pagans mark the solstices as the times when the fairies are moving between their winter and summer homes. Modern lore goes so far as to sometimes call Beltane “outdoor sex” day, as prior to this, it’s too cold to even attempt it, and it is common to hear about “merry Maying,” going and having sex out in the woods or fields. Children born from a coupling on this day are blessed and are called merry-begotten children. As a mother of such a child and friends with other parents of merry-begottens, I can share that the magic of doing this is very powerful and an amazing alignment with the Celtic year, with child being born and one’s milk flowing at the time of Imbolg. Watching a child grow as a babe in the waxing sun of spring and summer is also amazing, though the additional dangers of modern cold and flu season are not to be envied in a winter birth, when most ancient peoples would have been more isolated from other families and thus from illnesses through the cold winter and especially following a birth. The healing powers of Brigid are all the more appreciated at this time, but when Bealtaine comes again, you can see that the gods have truly supported the life started a year prior and you’ve made it through.

For 19 years now, I’ve been celebrating Bealtaine, Beltane and May Day in various incarnations. Sometimes there will be a maypole, but not so much as in my early days of paganism when I was more Wiccan in practice. Today, and since I became a Druid and practiced an Irish spiritual path, there are always fires, preferably two but at least one, and the people can be found jumping the bale fire, especially for blessings upon the year and health, as well as for renewals of commitments between partners. I have long loved to rise before dawn and catch the first rays of sun as they ignite the dew with fires of summer, and I have often loved standing under the apple tree and shaking the dew soaked blossoms into a Bealtaine shower, which I do feel is a strong blessing of joy. As a new pagan, I did it to gather the dew and anoint my eyes that I might see the fae. Today, I gather the dew to anoint my eyes and ears, that I might see and hear the fae, the spirits, and to anoint my heart, that I might be blessed in creativity, expression and love, and to anoint my head, that I may be blessed with clear vision, understanding and the ignited flame of the dew soaked greens. And so may it be for you.

~Tyne

 

References:

  • Kondratiev, Alexei. 2003. The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual. Citadel Press: New York.
  • Marshall, Ruth. 2003. Celebrating Irish Festivals: Calendar of Seasonal Celebrations. Hawthorn Press: Gloucestershire, UK.
  • Ryan, Granger and Helmut Ripperger. 1941. “The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.” The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine. Arno Press: Longmans, Green & Co, 1941. pp. 321-327. Accessed online 5 May, 2016 at http://www.mcah.columbia.edu/courses/medmil/pages/non-mma-pages/text_links/gl_johnbaptist.html
  • Telyndru, Jhenah (AW). 2005. Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery, and Inner Wisdom. Llewellyn Publications: Woodbury, Minnesota.

Lá Fhéile Bríde

Day Chapel Tapestry of the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard

I am the one who wakes the creatures sleeping in their dens.
I am the one who makes the milk and puts eggs in the hens.
I am the one who wakes the seeds and puts buds on the trees.
I am the one who thaws the streams, I am a summer breeze.
Wherever you have seen my work, you know I walk the land.
And if you simply reach for me, I’ll take you by the hand.
~Tyne Rochette~

When the spring signs come, she walks the land. When you leave out your cloaks and your offerings in early spring or you stand at the spring to gather water, she will be there. You have no need to worry that she is not walking the land when you have chosen to do her work. When the milk flows and the lambing begins, she is there. When the hens lay more eggs as the daylight grows, she is there. When the seeds sprout and the trees bud, she is there. When the springs can be found flowing within the icy ground, she is there. When the breeze blows warm, she is there. She walks the land, offering her blessings of fire and water.

As the marker of growing light and sun, the turning point from the depth of winter, the softening of the icy days with the flowing life waters from deep in the earth, the welcoming of new growth, we prepare for and celebrate the Festival of Brigid, Lá Fhéile Bríde, Imbolc, Gwyl Mair, Goel Kantolyon, Laa’l Breeshey. Some may simply called the holiday Brigid. In Wales, the festival is known as Gwyl Mair, reflecting the Christianized name of Mary, who took on many of the pre-Christian attributes of Brigid during her feast as January transitions into February and the sun has finally gained the upper hand enough to promise the return of summer. Brigid, as goddess of the Land, goddess of the power of fire and water, she allows the people to live through her blessings and her gifts. Her fire may be the fire of inspiration, the fire of new life deep in the earth and deep in the womb, the fire of the forge and all works created by the hands and minds of the people in harmony with her. Indeed, all of these are her fire and at this time, we seek her blessing on all our endeavors, our work and our health. The waters flow in spite of flying snows and the time has to wash away our darkness, our shadows, our grudges and our coldness, to lift our faces to the rising sun, to take her blessings of water and milk, to light the fires within, to bless the crafts of our hands and our hearts.

Brigid feeds the fires of inspiration, life, and the forge. She is goddess of healing, poetry, and smith craft, making her the pillar that holds up the tribe in a Celtic society of farmers, spiritualists, and warriors. She is the beneficent goddess of the land whom all are dependent upon for harmony and life. The Celts held true that the gods walked among them, manifesting themselves as humans who would form bridges between the tribe and the land. It is no wonder, then, that St. Brigit of Kildare, the 5th century saint and abbess of Kildare, was so clearly connected with the goddess herself. There is no inconsistency for the Irish mind that Brigid, the goddess of fire and water, goddess of the green mantle, the goddess who makes it possible to live a spiritual life in harmony with the land, would be born to bridge the tribe’s new Christian faith with the land for a new era.

On pilgrimage to seek Brigit’s sacred flame in 2005, I was surprised to find this truth amongst the Irish – that Brigit the saint and Brigid the goddess are one and the same. When it is so often a struggle in the US that so many saints or holidays hold pre-Christian roots, it was a shocking relief to learn that this was not a struggle in the heart of her land at all. Brigidine sisters tell that St. Brigit was present at the beginning of creation, for she was the one who carried the light when God said, “Let there be light.” She is also said to have distracted King Herod’s men while Jesus, Mary and Joseph escaped, donning a crown of candles, dancing and singing in order to allow them to escape. This story connects her, in my mind, to other goddesses and saints of Northeastern Europe who also don crowns of light in winter, and it shows how the philosophical worldview of the people would have easily allowed Bride the goddess and Brigit the woman to be one and the same.

The connection of tribe and land, as bridged by a goddess and her interaction with the people arises even in the Celtic diaspora of Haiti, where many enslaved people from Celtic lands worked beside African enslaved populations. When a new cemetery is created in a Haitian Vodou community, the first woman buried is titled the Brigitte, connecting the people with the place and making them able to communicate with the Goddess and, through her, with the dead who are buried thereafter. This Celtic diaspora practice in Haitian Vodou gives an interesting nod to Celtic beliefs of connection to the land and how Brigid, ie. Brigitte, forges that connection. When the author of Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess asked who the first woman buried at Kildare was, the response was, “St Brigit herself was the first.”  Whether or not Brigit was actually the first woman to die at Kildare is a good question, and we know she was not the first person to die there. Her body is not there even now, making all the more interesting the ideas put forth about the way people connect with the land from a Celtic/Irish perspective.

For the celebration of Brigid’s return to power after the deepest darkness of winter, activities of our grove include attention brought to light, seeking out and using spring water to transform our inner darkness and washing ourselves with the spring water to ready ourselves for spring, weaving dolls, crosses, and girdles representing the goddess herself, and healing practices to help ensure the health of the people. Brigid is known to wander the land on the eve of her night with her sacred white cow, blessing the “cloaks” left out for her, offering her protection to all her people. A ribbon, the “cloak,” could be tied to the door latch overnight and then could be tied around the head to relieve headaches, a common problem the saint herself experienced. People would often leave a bowl of milk, water, butter or salt for Brigid to bless and a bundle of oats for her cow, after which the blessed food would be shared, given to the needy or kept for its curative powers. Colors associated with Brigid’s day are white, green, yellow and cream, reflecting her associations with winter, light, the sun, and new growth as seen in nature.

Weavings in Ireland take on many forms. Families will weave crosses of different styles to represent Brigid, large dolls to walk house-to-house or smaller family ones. One of the Irish traditions involving weaving is to make a crois or girdle that is meant to be Brigid’s girdle, made large enough to hang from a beam and allow members of the house to walk through for a blessing from Brigid. This can be seen as the passage of each member through the womb of the goddess herself, through her girdle. This is quite a blessing, to pass through the threshold once more and be gifted another year from the goddess. This is still done today in some parts of Ireland and our grove continues the tradition. Participants pass through the braided loop of straw, vine, or other natural, gathered material three times in a fire-eight pattern, receiving Brigid’s threefold blessing.

Other traditional weavings include making a doll to represent Brigid, though this wasn’t always the case and sometime a woman would represent Brigid instead of a doll or, as in Scotland, a bed would be made for Brigid and a doll may or may not be placed within it. These representations preside over the festivities and represent the goddess herself, whether it be a woman or a woven brideog.

The snake and hedgehog are sacred to Brigid and the traditions of Groundhog Day in the US is related to old Celtic customs related to Imbolc. In this tradition, a chthonic animal that bridges the worlds of the deep and this world are looked to for divination about the remaining period going into spring. If it snows on Brigid’s Day, it is a blessing, which we still see in the Groundhog Day tradition, saying that if the groundhog cannot see his shadow (ie. it is cloudy or a storm is present), then summer will come sooner. The idea behind this is that if the winter is blaring during this time, it will run itself out and warm weather will come sooner. Other animals associated with Brigid’s Day include the sheep, whose lactation and lambing is an often-mentioned marker for her festival and a major component of the blessings of milk and butter. Indeed, some of the etymological references for the holiday of Imbolc and Oimelc refer to lactation and to the pregnancy of the ewes, reminding us also of the pregnancy of the earth with the seeds preparing to burst forth and with our own endeavors, readying themselves to burst forth in the new light of spring.

May the work of your hands be blessed.
May the work of your spirit be blessed.
May the work of your body be blessed.
May you walk in harmony with the land.
May the waters sustain you.
May the fires burn bright within you.
May you never hunger.
May you never thirst.
May you pass through the girdle again and again.

Blessed Imbolc, Lá Fhéile Bríde

~Tyne Rochette~

Day Chapel Tapestry of the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard
Day Chapel Tapestry of the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard

Resource & References List:

Image: Day Chapel Tapestry of the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard. House of Brigid. University of Notre Dame. http://www.houseofbrigid.org/

Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess by Courtney Weber
“Going with the Grain.” Smallholding Ireland. http://www.smallholding.ie/blog/going-with-the-grain

Kondratiev, Alexei. The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual. Citadel Press: New York. 2003.

Marshall, Ruth. Celebrating Irish Festivals. Hawthorn Press: Gloucestershire 2003.
“The Ancestors, and the Vodou way of reclaiming the dead.” Meta-Religion. http://www.meta-religion.com/World_Religions/Voodoo/ancestors.htm

Telyndru, Jhenah. 2005. Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery, and Inner Wisdom. Llewellyn Publications: Woodbury, Minnesota.

Wikipedia. “Brigit of Kildare.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigit_of_Kildare

 

Spirit and Soul

Iron Triple Brighids Cross

One doesn’t often find oneself discussing the concept of having both a spirit and soul in modern times.  In the lore of the Northern Europeans, the Middle East, and elsewhere, however, we find such a concept in ideas about the human being. We even see this in the Bible, in I Thessalonians, saying, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless.” This concept is not so dead and old as one might think. Much of the talk today in core shamanism circles references this concept too, without quite defining it as such, calling certain ailments the infliction of “soul loss.” I am of the opinion that “spirit fragmentation” might be a better interpretation when considering a distinction between spirit and soul. In my own lifetime, I have heard people discuss such fragmentation in a core shamanism perspective, statements from non-shamanic practitioners that suicide causes a soul to shatter and pieces to be lost in innumerable places, personal experiences of unintentional reunion with fragments of self from past lives and this lifetime, and in psychology, the experiences described in core shamanism’s “soul loss” may be called dissociation under certain circumstances. As philosophies and approaches have changed, popular terms for unseen aspects of the human being have changed as well. “Consciousness,” “personality,” “ego” and “psyche” often describe what was once called soul or spirit. When looking at past beliefs and those who maintain them in modern times, it is often helpful to consider how the culture group has shifted the language used to speak about the same concepts in a more modern, respectable manner. If it helps you conceptualize these things, you could interchange the terms to see how they alter your perception of the ideas and the people who might believe in them.

For some cultural beliefs, there were traditionally more than two aspects of soul/spirit, having different functions (just think of consciousness, personality, ego and psyche again), and the soul/spirit could be fragmented or lost under various circumstances and to various effects. Depending on the time period and author, which word was used would differ, but the idea was the same: at least one part made you physically alive and at least one connected you with the divine, the spirit world, the otherworld, or whatever the particular culture considered beyond this physical experience.

Let’s look at these concepts in a modern perspective. First, we’ll look at the spirit, rooted in words relating to breath, which makes you a living being and leaves your body at death, but often seen as much more than simply biological life. We also speak of spirit as some sort of expressive or personal energy, attitude or mood (“she has spirit!”), things that make us feel more alive as feeding our spirit (“that’s inspiring!”), and as a synonym for a ghost, various unseen entities, kinds of divine beings or the divine itself. Spirit implies vitality, life or sentience of some sort. The soul, on the other hand, can be seen as the part of you that is divine, a spark of the great big Flame, and this part of us is generally considered incapable of being damaged, though it could be stolen, as seen in many folkloric tales and warnings around the world. When people argue against spiritual or religious ideas of the human being, they often are really tackling the idea of a soul, not the idea of a human spirit as that thing that makes you feel alive, things that touch you deeply, or the breath that biologically makes you live or die.

Spirit reflects the root for breath (respiration), as well as inspiration, reflecting the concept of some entity that breaths life, ideas or images into your thoughts so that you may create something from the world of spirit (the world of breath/ideas) into the world of solid things.

At times and places in human history, the soul is what primarily distinguished a human from an animal: humans had both spirit and soul, animals only had the spirit, the breath of life. In other parts of the world, all things held that divine spark, and thus all things were imbued with soul, which could never die. This part of the entity would be what goes on to another life, joins the divine in some afterlife, rejoins with the collective experiences of Gaia, etc.

The ghost is a different part of the human, as personality is involved, which was and is often seen as involving a different aspect of the human experience. We now know that much of our personality is determined by our personal body chemistry and our experiences, so this would automatically imply that the ghost is not the soul of the person, since the soul is not generally considered to be impressionable, in this context. Whether a ghost is the spirit of the person as they held it in life, a fragmented part of the person’s spirit, or an impression of the deceased person upon the person experiencing the spectre is a different question.

The reality of the literal existence of a soul or ghosts is unimportant to the non-believer, and I urge you to adopt this stance if you do not believe in such things or you are unsure. The reason it is unimportant is that what is believed and experienced in the mind is truly all that is real to the one experiencing and believing. We cannot argue away the phantom pain of an amputee or the symptoms of a hypochondriac. If a person is prayed for and believes they will heal, their chances of healing are immensely higher. Even those not knowing they are being prayed for may have higher chances of healing and success, depending on the circumstances, but that is beyond this point in the discussion. If a person has a vision of their deceased mother following death and they believe they were visited by them, that is what happened, for them, and it makes no difference and can potentially do harm to tell them their experiences are false.

Spirituality, or those things that concern the spirit, is an approach from which we can view the sacred, with or without belief in divine beings, afterlives or reincarnation. Those things that feed the spirit and vitality of a person are then sacred, things that inspire are then spiritual. We can be inspired by art and by our creation of art. We can be inspired by new ideas, our studies and contemplation. We can be inspired by nature. We can be inspired by great people and great written works, by stories, by experiences, by our struggles and our joys, and by many more things.

May you be inspired, full of life and vitality and spirit.

-Tyne

 

References:

Andrade, Chittaranjan and Rajiv Radhakrishnan. “Prayer and healing: A medical and scientific perspective on randomized controlled trials.”  Indian J Psychiatry. 2009 Oct-Dec; 51(4): 247–253. Accessed 5 January, 2016. doi:  10.4103/0019-5545.58288. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2802370/

Horrigan, Bonnie. “Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone. An Interview of Michael Harner.” Shamanism, Spring/Summer 1997, Vol. 10, No. 1. Accessed 5 January, 2016. http://www.shamanism.org/articles/article01.htm

International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. “Dissociation FAQ’s.” “Dissociated experiences are not integrated into the usual sense of self, resulting in discontinuities in conscious awareness. In severe forms of dissociation, disconnection occurs in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception.” Accessed 5 January, 2016. http://www.isst-d.org/?contentID=76

King James Bible. 1 Thessalonians 5:23. “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”