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Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times

February, 2019

Celebrating the Old Ways in New Times For Imbolc February 2019

Bright Blessings!

Oh my, did the Winter Hag hit us last night. In Central Ohio we got I don’t know how many inches of snow- which would be fine- except we got solid ice underneath it first. I can’t walk my dog in certain parts of the grass or we will slide away!

The plows, salt trucks, and sidewalk clearing is in full swing. I only had to shovel my front stoop, as a neighbor shoveled the walk before our helpers got here. Not bad, but I am aching all over- as it’s only 8 degrees, and my body revolts against the cold.

There is ice frozen inside of our vintage 1970 windows, and I am wearing double layers and sitting under a blanket, as is the dog.

The cats are sound asleep, and while I have a cup of hot mint with black tea, my husband has started his coffee ritual. We all know what that means. Nothing happens before coffee!

There is beef stew cooked already for supper, and we will probably make some tacos as well. I am sore, exhausted, and I know it’s due to the cold.

I am one of THOSE people. This weather has knocked me out.

I am more than in the mindset to think about Spring. I’m thankful we are close to another turning of the Wheel, and I look forward to when I can hear more birds singing, and I can see the thaw, and the wildflowers poking through the forest floor.

Imbolc

Possibly one of my least favorite Sabbats- because it is bloody cold, Imbolc is both a blessing, and just another stepping stone moving us towards warmer days, and the growing season.

Halfway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, it was traditionally celebrated in Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Mann. In a nutshell, the animals would be lactating, or producing milk, so people had a feast, thanked their gods, and had a good old time.

So, it was, and is a seasonal harvest type celebration, but it was so much more than that.

It was celebrating the goddess Brigid.

Ceremony was used to ask her to come into the home to bless and protect the people and livestock. Beds so she could accept hospitality would be laid for her, and special foods set out. Everybody wanted the goddess to come into their home and protect them and guide them into the coming Spring.

Winter is a scary time. Even today, ice can knock out electricity, and what if you can’t even afford electricity? It’s cold! Reports of the poor and homeless freezing to death are in the news every Winter. Imagine how much scarier it used to be hundreds of years ago, and how grateful people were for both the milk, and the thaw which heralded the fact Spring would indeed come. The Wheel was and is turning again, and people are very very happy about that.

The Winter Hag

But while Brigid might be a goddess of light and life, some would say in Winter, she is her hag aspect.

She goes by different names depending on what part of the British Isles she is being talked about. For some, she’s Beira, and she washes her plaid on the Loch until it is pure white, and she spreads it upon the land, making snow. For some, she is called the Cailleach.

Beira uses her hammer to make mountains and valleys, and uses her staff to make it cold and wintry. She rules from November 1- Samhain, to Beltaine- May 1, and she is VERY resistant to give over her rule to Brigid, who rules from May 1- to November 1. Some even say she gives power to Brigid as early as Imbolc although some say it’s as late as Beltaine. Some say the early Spring snows are Beira’s way of trying to stay in power!

In many ways these stories express human beings way of trying to explain seasons before modern science, but in many ways, they express the duality of our own lives as well.

Light and Dark

Who among us has never been a vivacious, lively person one moment, only to endure a period of personal darkness, tragedy, or illness? Just like the goddess.

As for many of us the goddess IS the earth, these stories speak to us. When it’s the warmer seasons, the goddess- aka earth- produces abundantly. Like in our own lives, when all is well and we are at our best, we are more capable, and get more done successfully. Likewise, when we are sick, suffering, sad, or just upset, we are not at our best, and fall fallow- like the earth, or the goddess in Winter.

As my memory is not what it used to be, and I have done a LOT of reading over the years, I cannot pinpoint exactly what stories express what I am about to share.

But I have read many stories about people hearing a knock at their door in the night, and an old hag asks hospitality, sometimes just to warm herself at their fire. In the stories, it turns out this is no ordinary old woman, but either a powerful witch who blesses the family if they are kind to her, or curses them if they are unkind. In some stories, it’s the goddess coming for a bit of comfort.

The moral of these stories is not so much to try and be rewarded for all the good we do, but to remember those who are struggling, who need our help.

Also, you never know who somebody who looks to be a down and out old bag of nothing actually is. Everybody is important and deserves comfort and alleviation of suffering. Let us never forget there will come a day when we, too may be that pitiful creature begging for hospitality.

The Living Saint

One of my personal heroes was Mother Theresa, who, to me, was a living embodiment of the goddess. At a young age, she chose to work with the poorest of the poor because she felt her god called her. Her Sisters in Calcutta are world famous for their compassion and determination to grant comfort and love to those who the World seems to have forgotten.

I used to read her books and just cry. She told stories about people being carried in off the street with nothing. These people were sometimes actively dying. Some of the people could only be given a bed to lie in until they crossed the veil. Sometimes, their bodies were not only filthy, but infested with vermin. The sisters would patiently pick the worms off the people’s bodies, and thank their god for the opportunity to “tend to Jesus in a distressing disguise.”

They drew this belief from the scriptures where it is said ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant [they seemed], you did for me.’

Mother Theresa wrote about tending the body of Christ, HER god. She said by doing for others, you touched, blessed, and tended the body of her god.

NEVER turn away the Goddess

I saw the Goddess in her Winter Hag form at a grocery store this week. She was in a “Distressing Disguise”.

She was sitting by the door, waiting to be picked up, as many elderly people do- and she had her nose and mouth wrapped, and her hands tucked into the sleeves of her coat. I could see she had on no gloves.

I asked if she would like a pair of gloves. She said yes. I put my gloves on her. I had initially walked past her, but something told me not to. She was cold, she was alone, and I did not have time to stay, but I had a pair of gloves to give her. I helped her into the gloves, and she thanked me. As I walked away, I could feel chills, and not because it was cold. I told my husband “That was The Goddess.”

She was old, bent over, decrepit, cold, and suffering. She needed a little comfort.

Was she a celestial spirit? No. She was merely a human being, but women are the physical embodiment of the Goddess in the same way people are the physical embodiment of the body of the Xtian god for people like Mother Theresa.

Instead of a Sabbat ritual, I have a suggestion, a plea actually. Would you be able to find the time to tend to the body of the goddess in her distress? Can you welcome the hag into your home and heart, and celebrate her in her struggles as well as glorifying her in all her splendor?

Saoirse’s Imbolc Working

Keep this as a regular practice, not just something to do for Sabbat. This is not a ritual, but is a set of things to keep in mind. We all need one another and sometimes forget, or don’t know how to ask for what we need.

We get caught up in our own lives and are busy with what we specifically are doing and sometimes forget about the people who are not directly IN our presence. Let’s face it, adulting is exhausting sometimes. It’s not easy to remember everything. Try to train yourself to keep an eye out for those who need your help. You can begin with a prayer like this:

“Great Goddess, she from who all life came, and to who we all return, Open my eyes. Open my heart. Open my awareness to those who need me. I am easily distracted by my own life. Don’t let me miss the call, or misunderstand signs. Use me as your hands, that I may do all the things you see fit. Use my voice to be your words so I may be as comfort for those who are hurting. Use my arms to be your warm embrace. Open my heart so I may take people in who feel nobody loves them. Use me as your vessel that I may be a living embodiment of you. So be it.”

  1. Set an intention to keep tabs on those who are sick, isolated, depressed, sad, grieving, old, or just alone. This extends to your loved ones who are overworked and do not have time for a social life as well. People who are easily forgotten because they are not nearby are the ones who need to be checked up on the most.
  2. Remember that YOU are sometimes the one who needs care or help. Do NOT hesitate to ask for what you need. We are in one another’s lives, and together, life is better. Be compassionate and patient with yourself. If you feel frustrated with yourself for whatever you are struggling with, ask yourself if you would be harsh with somebody ELSE struggling with this? Of course you wouldn’t! Remember to be healing, patient, and loving to yourself as well as others.
  3. Holiday time is especially difficult for those who are alone or struggling somehow. They feel like a third wheel at gatherings, and may forego attending for not only that, but if they cannot afford to contribute, they may feel embarrassed. Think of ways to make them feel comfortable coming, and reassure them.
  4. You may need to arrange transportation and take somebody home early. People who struggle may not be physically capable of staying the whole time. Make sure they know that is okay and they won’t be stuck trying to be presentable when they need to leave early.
  5. On the other hand- be understanding if they just need to skip out. Don’t make them feel attendance is mandatory. Let them do what they can do.
  6. Learn to listen. I cannot tell you how many family members of sick or elderly people I have heard spout off about “I JUST don’t understand Mom/Grandma/Aunt Ethel/ etc…” and literally complain about how said family member has some sort of struggle THEY don’t have, so they have no clue why ANYBODY does. As if said family member is willfully doing this to themselves, and is a GREAT inconvenience to the “normal” people. Learn compassion and empathy, or leave the care to somebody who has some. That is all.
  7. Make quality time with the goddess in distress. Don’t just go do errands and or appointments, aka “good deeds” or “duty”. While all of that is important, do not forget your goddess needs to be treated as a normal person and she wants to spend time with you. Have a cup of coffee and birdwatch together. Go for lunch. Go feed the ducks, or hit the movies. Enjoying life should not be forgotten just because the goddess is in distress!
  8. Don’t just do good deeds for the goddess in distress when it is socially acceptable to do so- like birthdays or Sabbats, or mainstream holidays. People need love and care year round, not just when you get a reminder because of the time of year it is.
  9. Give her gifts. I don’t just mean candles or incense lit on your altar. I mean give things to human beings who are struggling. Say you have an elderly neighbor who used to grow tomatoes, but can’t anymore. Give her some of yours from your garden as often as possible. Say you have a disabled neighbor who likes to go to the park. Take them. Say there is an old decrepit neighborhood stray cat. Give it treats, food, shelter, love, and take it to the Vet …unless you can find a way to have it adopted, of course!
  10. Never stop looking for a way to venerate the goddess through the lives of her creatures. There are opportunities constantly. Keep your eyes and ears open. Ask for guidance regularly, and then just remain open to her call and vice.

May Imbolc bring new beginnings for you. May the weather be gentle, and the Winter Hag spare you in the days before she becomes Brigid. May the goddess appear before you in her splendor, and may you be aware, and know what to do to help when she is reaching out to you in a distressing disguise.

Blessed Imbolc.

Blessed Be!

***

About the Author:

Saoirse is a recovered Catholic.  I was called to the Old Ways at age 11, but I thought I was just fascinated with folklore. At age 19, I was called again, but I thought I was just a history buff, and could not explain the soul yearnings I got when I saw images of the Standing Stones in the Motherland. At age 29, I crossed over into New Age studies, and finally Wicca a couple years later. My name is Saoirse, pronounced like (Sare) and (Shah) Gaelic for freedom. The gods I serve are Odin and Nerthus. I speak with Freyja , Norder, and Thunor as well. The Bawon has been with me since I was a small child, and Rangda has been with me since the days I was still Catholic. I received my 0 and 1 Degree in an Eclectic Wiccan tradition, and my Elder is Lord Shadow. We practice in Columbus, Ohio. I am currently focusing more on my personal growth, and working towards a Second and Third Degree with Shadow. I received a writing degree from Otterbein University back in 2000. I have written arts columns for the s Council in Westerville. I give private tarot readings and can be reached through my Facebook page Tarot with Saoirse. You can, also, join me on my Youtube Channel.

Individuals Within the Unified Matrix of Life

January, 2019

art by Katherine Bell McClure

I’ve been considering the phrase ‘all my relations’ for some time now. It’s hugely important. It’s our saving grace in the end. It points to the truth that we are all related, that we are all connected, that we all belong to each other. The most important word is ‘all.’ Not just those who look like me, sing like me, dance like me, speak like me, pray like me or behave like me. ALL my relations. That means every person, just as it means every rock, mineral, blade of grass, and creature. We live because everything else does. If we were to choose collectively to live that teaching, the energy of our change of consciousness would heal each of us–and heal the planet.”

-Richard Wagamese

I am first generation Canadian. My parents were both born and raised in Portugal. Along with my extended family on both sides, they came to Canada to escape the Revolution and mandatory military conscription (for men at the time). Over the years, my parents have shared with me how hard it was to arrive in a new country as young adults with little English and a very different worldview, in some ways, than that of the mainstream Canadian culture of the time. My parents learned English, joined the workforce, and adopted some mainstream Canadian ways that were meaningful to them. As I get older, I appreciate more and more the things about Portuguese culture that they valued and held tight to: the language, the spiritual and cultural traditions, the importance of family and community living.

Even though I was born in Canada, Portuguese is my first language. I became more fluent in English when I went to public school in kindergarten. However, I attended Portuguese school on Saturdays to learn to read and write. I was aware from a very young age that I had to learn how to walk between two very different worlds: the very individualistic values of the mainstream Canadian society and the community values of my heritage. This was–and still is, to an extent–a delicate dance for me because I hold values in both camps: I value my individual expression and free will, while also seeing the importance of seeing myself as part of a complex matrix of life. I don’t see these two orientations towards living as dichotomies any longer. I actually see them feeding into one another quite naturally when we don’t put them on a polarized scale where one is more important than the other. As always, nature provides us with good illustrations of how these two co-exist.

Animals are who they are: a tiger does not pretend to be a horse, for instance. Animals live from their true nature, the essence of who they are. They also know the importance of cooperation. Ecosystems are a great example of this. The Canada geese in our neighbourhood have a choice of many ponds to feed at and raise their young. This year, I noticed that they moved their feeding spot despite the fact that there was still a good food supply for them. It turns out that the geese are great conservationists; they left their territory to allow it to recover from their years of use. An elder also recently reminded me that geese take turns being the leader when they are flying so the birds who fly behind have an easier time traveling. Similarly, we know that when predators are reintroduced into environments from which they’ve been absent, they restore balance to the ecosystems. When wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park, the ungulate population decreased, therefore allowing the plants and trees to flourish again. Not only do animal species know how to conserve, but different animals provide the checks and balances needed for most species to flourish. Thankfully, life is tenacious!

We are individuals with our own life paths but we are living in a relational field of energy where what we do, say, and think impacts everything else in connection with us and vice versa. We are individuals within the unified matrix of life. The question is not: Do we choose our individualistic notions above those of community? Westerners often cling to individualistic doctrine out of fear of losing their “rights.” And although we must be vigilant not to give over our rights as sovereign beings, we simply couldn’t survive alone; we depend on communities of all kinds to thrive. We see the environmental, social, human, and psychological destruction that happens when people live only from their individual needs, wants, and desires– when they forget that they are not alone in the universe. The important question in my mind is: How do we use our Spirit-given gifts to add to the collective energy of the communities we travel within (including the ecosystems we live in)? Being committed to community living is like a marriage where there will be rough patches but what is important is that we continue to face towards each other to find ways that everyone’s needs are met to some extent most of the time.

Sometimes this means that we must put aside some of our desires so someone else in need can receive more support. One community I am a part of operates in a consensus model. Coming to a general agreement that works for folks is harder the bigger the group gets, though not impossible. Similar to the geese, everyone leads at different times in this group and everyone’s voice has the possibility of being heard. I am more successful in my intimate relationships today in my forties because of my participation with this community model. I’ve learned to see where there is need in my community and give up some of my “wants” so that others might receive benefit. For example, folks have different personal financial budgets and while we have an agreement to meet each year for professional growth, we’ve had to be mindful that we don’t meet in a location each year that causes financial strife for our members. With some creative thinking and adjustment to the community agreements regarding attendance, we’ve come up with a solution that everyone can live with. Is it ideal in that everyone gets everything they want or need all the time? No. However, it does minimize the negative impact the previous system was having on the lives and well-being of some of our members.

This is what the phrase “all my relations” means to me. It entails that we think about ourselves not as contained individual planets floating around aimlessly in a lonely solar system, rather that we are in a continuous, collective dance with the other sentient beings in the universe. Though we stand in our own circles, we have a responsibility to life and to doing the least amount of harm possible. This is challenging as human beings because we all do harm to some extent in order to survive: we hunt, we forage, we take down trees to build homes, we use natural resources to fuel our cars and heat our homes. It comes down to basic Systems Theory: When one part of the system (including families and communities) changes, the whole system has to change by default. Ironically, the stronger we stand in our own inner medicine wheels as individuals, the better advocates we become for issues that imperil the health and well-being of our communities. When we know who we are and what we value, we are more likely to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. This is what creates true change in the world. I dedicate this article to all my relations. May we continue to evolve in co-creation with Spirit.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

***

About the Author:

Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.

Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:

The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”

Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing

For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’S Shamanic Journey into Healing on Amazon