Monday, 31 October 2011

Winter Blessings from Celtic Christianity

The sun is setting, and I'm off to do a really quiet celebration of Samhain. I've been REALLY conflicted about this sabbat, feeling that I shouldn't celebrate it until I completely understand it (among other worries) - and since I really can't get my head around it yet, at all, I was all for trying to forget it was happening.

I confessed this to The Girl, my wonderful Jewish wife, who told me a story. Once upon a time, it was the eve of Passover. Three rabbis had been debating for hours, as rabbis do. They were debating how many plagues there had been in Egypt. There couldn't possibly have been only ten plagues. Were there a hundred? A thousand? More? On and on they debated, as the sun set. Then there was a knock on their door. They opened it to see a small group of concerned-looking students. "Rabbis," they said. "You're late for the service."

So I've been offline today, trying to work through some of this conflicted-ness, and much other stuff too. But I wanted to leave a Samhain blessing. This is a little gift for my dear Pagan friends (not having met most of you does not make you any less friends), who have been so supportive while I try to find my feet on my very personal path. Blessed Samhain. For tonight, I'm going to stop arguing about the number of plagues and go to the service.

Celtic Christian blessings and reflections on winter, death and time

Remember, O friend, your end.
Now you are strong and fit, filled with ambition, boasting of your achievements; but all your success is a mere passing shadow.
Remember you are made of clay, and to clay you will return.
Now you are healthy and handsome, filled with energy, proud of your work; but all your joys are mere passing shadows.
Remember your life is the breath of God, which at death will depart.
Now your life on earth is solid and stable; but soon it will dissolve, your body crumbling to dust.
Remember, O friend, your end.

- Celtic Christian poem

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

The face of nature is solemn in winter, her breath chill, and her eyes pale.
Ducks shiver as they float on icy ponds; the sea heaves, its waves beating against the cliffs.
The birds' song is muffled and sad, as they search for scraps of food; only the ravens are glad, feeding on crimson blood.
The tiny animals are asleep in their holes, with food for the winter; the cattle and sheep huddle for warmth.
The trees are bare, the wind whistling through their branches; the earth is barren and dark, covered with black wet leaves.
The men cut wood for the fire, while the women cook hot, thin soup; people contemplate death, when they shall meet their creator.

- Translated by Robert Van de Weyner from ancient British and Irish poems on the seasons

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

The month of November, the swine are plump.
The trees are now half bare, the leaves half fallen.
The brown floor turns black and sodden.
The days grow shorter, the nights longer.
The rain grows colder, the sunshine paler.
The full barn soon starts to empty.
'The wealth of heaven lasts forever.'

- From the Verses of the Months; Welsh, from about the 15th century

~     ~     ~      ~      ~

In the fading of the summer sun,
the shortening of days, cooling breeze,
swallows' flight and moonlight rays
We see the Creator's hand.
In the browning of leaves once green,
morning mists, autumn chill,
fruit that falls frost's first kiss
We see the Creator's hand.

We bless you, God of Seed and Harvest
And we bless each other
That the beauty of this world
And the love that created it
Might be expressed though our lives
And be a blessing to other.

- Modern Celtic Christian-style Samhain liturgy by John Birch ( )

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Mary nurtures a Son in her womb:
His birth a blessing to those who discover him.
He goes forth like the sun,
Great is the number of his company.

- Old Welsh poem
(The church season of Advent is about to start - Christians in the winter awaiting the returning Sun...)

Sunday, 9 October 2011

There is a time for everything...

...and a season for everything under heaven.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1 (found in both the Jewish and Christian bibles).

I've been an enormous hermit all summer. Since May, when I got married, then flew to Israel for another wedding, then collapsed on the way home, I've been keeping myself away from the world of other people (gah) as much as possible. This often happens to me during the summer - which is no bad thing for a teacher and aspiring academic, as my calendar leans in the direction of winter anyway. This summer I went inside myself, and deeply explored my own spiritual path and choices. This led to past journeys being examined, specific choices being made, and roots being extended. Branches? Not so much. I don't like going out into the world. I am now semi-regularly attending a local Pagan moot, while studying for my bardic grade with OBOD. That's all because I need structure. But since I have a whole long history of deep involvement with church behind me (not always a positive experience), and since I'm still attending church when I can, I don't desperately want an active group to share in regular ritual with - at least, not yet. I'm sure that's something I'll benefit from later. And I am attending open rituals occasionally. But mostly, my religious practice has been very, very personal recently. (And with an episode on the difference between religion and spirituality coming up for 'Divine Community', I'm interested to see myself defining it as religious practice!)

But now things are moving on, and I'm supposed to go back out into the world. I'm supposed to be beginning to reap the harvest of a summer of work, and finding new ways to plant, as a result. I'm back at uni, making a vague effort to focus on my studies, and of course the new podcast is one of the ways I'm responding to a call I feel to be engaging with the world. It's absolutely my calling, as a teacher and student of a lot of things - and I've always felt this calling to teach, to share experience, and to learn. But I would really rather not. I get scared.  I'm scared because my university is putting a lot of pressure on me, and I'm concerned I'm going to fold under it and not be able to finish my thesis (I've barely begun, so this is a bit of a silly one, but there you go). I'm scared that my podcast will be widely hated by the Pagan community because I won't be perceived as a 'real' Pagan, or because I don't know enough about Paganism/religion in general. What's the only thing you can do with fear? Well, you can run away, but eventually life catches up with you. But the other thing you can do is face it. Get back on the horse, and all that. (Note: the horse is metaphorical. I've only had one riding lesson in my entire life, and I was terrified and never did get back on the actual horse. Ahem.)

I'm being blessed enough to be able to worship deities of battle and strength, as well as to honour Scathach (pronounced Skya), a warrior figure who is somewhere between an ancestor and a goddess for some who follow a Celtic spirituality. This was a great shock to me. I thought that the deities who would call to me most would be the peace-making ones. And some of those are becoming important to me too. But the impression I get is that the Celtic deities think I've had quite enough of submission and acquiescence. Not that the deities of peace are about that either, but too much work with them early on and I might get the wrong idea and start to give in to my doormat tendencies, which already run rampant in my life. The gods who are becoming my gods are keen for me to face life a lot more directly. To get in touch with my own power, authority, and sovereignty over my own life.

Which means going back into the fray and dealing with problems, and with society. Did I mention that I really, really hate doing that? Which, y'know, is ironic for a sociologist. ("And given my lifelong search for irony you can imagine how happy I am." - Phoebe, 'Friends') Ah well. I'm working on it. And with that, I return to work on the never-ending literature review. This week: which aspects of Christianity can be seen as a 'new religious movement'? See you all later. (And do please download the podcast! Go on - make me less nervous. Thank you!)

It's Autumn in Britain, and absolutely beautiful.