Friday, April 4, 2014

Some Differences in Priestesses and Witches - Personal Transformations

La Belle Dame sans Merci

I am Renounced. I am no longer a Priestess, though I am still a witch, and possibly still an abbess. It's a disconcerting and enlightening sensation, replete with relief and disappointment. I have been Dedicated for two decades, and had forgotten what it was like not to be constantly connected with Deity. Since becoming Renounciate, however, the change in perception has been so quick and profound that I feel more qualified to speak on the difference in roles, abilities, and experiences of each.

Being a witch and being a priestess are manifestly not the same thing, though many of the current crop of books imply otherwise. A priestess is a conduit of Deity in the world, and can be from any tradition or set of practices, including wizardary. Invoking Deity during a ceremony, feeling Her move you occasionally or hearing Her is a completely different experience from dedicating yourself to a manifestation of the Universe. It is a contract; a Covenant between you and the Deity, where you are both matched and agree to it. You may hear the Call, but your deity must also take you on... Your inner Divine slowly, or sometimes radically, creates a constant communication with the outer Divine, learning from it, hearing it, and aligning yourself with it. You also represent Deity on earth, and channel that into spellwork and ceremony. Eventually, as you practice and feel the Calling, you take on aspects of the Deity, which manifest in your daily life. It greatly increases your abilities, sometimes even giving you new ones, since they are automatically Divinely channelled. As you become more aware of the bigger picture, and your mind is expanded to encompass it, you envision better your place in the Universe, and what you need to do to achieve it. Priestessing therefore touches Destiny, and you are filled with Purpose, and the passion for it. When you are an accomplished priestess, you are always in contact with Deity. Everyone talks to themselves, but priestesses sense the echo that their words, thoughts, feelings, and wishes are heard directly by Deity. In a way, they are always praying.

In our relatively safe Western world, we forget that many of these paths are actually dangerous, so therefore the tests can be as well. Not all Shamans or priests make it through their Initiations and Trials with whole skins or minds intact. It sometimes isn't simply a case of passing a sword over someone's head or anointing. It can involve passages to other worlds, links with other hearts and minds, and can threaten one's very physicality. Because that's what the job can sometimes entail and it can be pretty tough. Especially for priestesses, who are the Deity's representatives, doing Her work in the physical realm.

Priestesses and witches both have Initiations. Like most spiritual or mystical beginnings, they can be extremely similar or even simultaneous, often confused with each other. Both also share the concept of Trials, where major changes in life circumstances or spirituality are marked with an ordeal. In the case of priestesses, however, it isn't merely the inner self or circumstances and how one reacts that denotes the Initiation or Trial and its success or failure: it is the intervention and channelling of Deity itself that, if not creates the circumstance, then at least does the judging. Passing means that entirely new paths, powers, or perceptions open up. Think leveling. Failure in a Trial as a witch can mean that no movement into a particular new life path is possible for a time, perhaps ever. Failure for a priestess can mean much the same. However, it can have graver consequences. It can result in penance, with the promise of further chances to rectify, or punishment, or in the loss of favour from Deity entirely.

The latter such was my case recently. My Goddess has only benevolent aspects, so my Trial was, if you will, subcontracted out to another, less merciful manifestation of Spirit. Or simply not interfered with as another borrowed me for Her own purposes, which works out the same. I was geased with a task last October. Rather like a command function, it is a fundamental set of instructions that overrides any other code, to the exclusion of all other orders. It overwhelmed every part of my mind and body - the strongest Sending I have ever received in my life. Therefore, I never questioned its authenticity or imperative. Though seemingly simple, it was made clear that my entire future depended on its execution. However, since it conflicted with other self-imposed restrictions and needs, the task became more complex and harder to complete. The sacrifices became greater and, though I was willing to pay them, came with fewer results. I burnt everything - my sense of self, my defences, my university work, my ties to my family and home - none were worthy of acceptance. Uncompleted, though still running, for months the geas drove me mad. Ironically, I have never worked so hard at my spirituality in my life. Every single night without fail, for months I lit my candles and concentrated for hours. Spells, prayers, meditation, writing hundreds of pages, fasting, altering my biochemstry to dull the pain and make me functional... I prayed for mercy, and tried everything to break the geas or complete it. Waking or sleeping, it consumed my every moment, and I had no relief for my torment, except for brief periods of joy when a newly Initiated Priest took pity on my plight. For which I remain deeply grateful. Judgement was finally realized in the form of the new priest in the name of his Deity, and I was found wanting. My strength and honour were not enough to overcome the obstacles to the task, particularly my personal demons. Though I was responsible for his Initiation, even his introduction to his new Matron deity, which was part of my task, it was not enough of a boon to switch the judgement in my favour. It took me some time to process that, and all the while the geas continued unabated. Finally, only a few days ago, I realized that the only way to release it, since I wasn't going to be able to complete it, was to cut off the Divine conduit itself.

My Deity was clearly disappointed in my service, and had removed Her protection and dismissed me, though in Her kindness, rather allowed me to resign. So on April 1, without even an auspicious date, since it seemed pointless, I Renounced my Deity. Never having participated in such a ritual before, I had to wing it a bit. I announced my intention to my family to prepare them and took off my pentangle, some version of which hasn't left my neck in over two decades, as a symbol of repudiation of our Covenant. The results were astonishing. The overwhelming pain of the uncompleted geas was gone almost instantly, and the dominant sensation was one of a burden lifted, though not without sorrow, particularly in my proven failure and weakness. So in case I was still in doubt, I was proven correct - the source of the geas was Divine, and though this destiny remains unfulfilled, it no longer matters.

As I return to being a humble witch, my perceptions and abilities have been altering rapidly, as I discover which parts of my life were intertwined with my constant channelling and which are my own inherent gifts and skills. For example, for me that means I retain my precog, which I've had since I was a child, but all the Destiny and grand epicness that I used to manifest on a daily basis is gone. No longer connected to the Divine, I am suddenly cut off from the bigger picture, and cannot touch the filaments of Destiny that weave through life. Sidelined, if you will...

That does beg the question, however: how much of my witch skills were boosted by Divinity?  I can no longer perform some duties, clearly, but others remain as my own, though lessened. Will I be able to help others heal anymore? Can I teach? Will I even want to, as I am bereft of the sense of passion and destiny necessary for such grand schemes? I have known what I was supposed to do since I was 12, with every single skill, task, risk, and relationship in my life, including that with Deity, moving towards that goal, and now, I literally have no future in front of me anymore. Even my cooking is off. Apparently, even that was a prayer, since my Deity is a Healer and Hospitaler. Now I have to re-learn how to do that without channelling, too... My daughter, who has never known me when I wasn't a priestess, says that I'm 'all here' now and that when she speaks, all my attention is fixed on her. She claims that part of me was missing when she used to talk to me, since I was in constant communication with Deity. Which I agree with, since now it seems like my universe has shrunk, and it's only me inside my head. She insists that I even smell differently.

Part of me still retains hope that I can be Redeemed and finish my task, returning to the Divine in humility but triumph. Fulfilling my Destiny by completing my quest and moving on to the next level. However, that requires the relenting of my priest judge, and neither he, nor his matron, are known for their mercy. So it's a false hope. Turns out that he'll make a far better Manifestation of his Deity than I ever did of mine, though, so at the end of this, it's a net gain of Priests, right? I do feel that this withdrawal could eventually change, however. Perhaps, once I learn who I am, by myself, and again increase my natural gifts, in a number of years I might be able to rededicate to Deity - though not necessarily the same one, or Her and another, and maybe reintegrate with Destiny, being useful on a grander scale once more. Or I might not, since I'm not enough of a optimist to believe that She is doing this in the long run for my 'own good'. Maybe I just failed and got fired, because that is what happens sometimes.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Brighid – Celtic Triple Goddess for the Ancient and Modern World

My essay containing some of the latest research on my matron deity for my Goddess Mythology, Women’s Spirituality, and Ecofeminism course.

Figure 1. Four arm version, and most commonly known, St. Brigit’s Cross from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid's_cross

Though the standardized spelling of Her title in English is now Bridgid or Bridgit, and in oral narratives as Bride, this ancient Goddess is known in Gaelic languages as Brigit, Brighit, Brid, Briid, Brigid, Brighid, usually pronounced “Breed”; all stemming from the root of the ancient word Brig meaning “exalted”, “high”, “fire”, or conveying power or authority. Her name is usually translated as some form of “The Exalted One”, “High One”, “Bright One” or sometimes “Bright Arrow”.  Not simply an Irish Goddess, as She is currently known, Her influence is felt all over what was known as the Celtic world. She has been linked with Ffraid in Wales, Brigindo amoung Gauls, Brigandu in Celtic France, and Brigantia in Britain, and therefore the symbol of the island as Britiania itself. The Celtic tribe of Brigantes took their name from Her, and all over the ancient world, even surviving to the modern era, hundreds of places, wells, rivers, and centres of worship bear the remembrance of Her name or symbolism.


Brighid is rather unique in that She has survived relatively intact and still worshiped in the modern era. To that we must owe, ironically, the canonization and popularization of Her as a Catholic saint. In 633 CE, in Leinster, a new sept, Ui Dhúnlainge, rises to power. Its leader, Faolán mac Colmáin, was brother to the Bishop of Kildare and commissions the Vita Brigitae, or the Life of Bridgit, around 650 CE. This saint’s supposed biography is compiled a century after her alleged death by the monk Cogitosus, and is the “oldest surviving biography of any Irish saint”, according to Ó hÓgain, D. (1985). Focusing largely on her miracles, “a skillful combination of pagan and Christian elements”, it has very little real information about the historical Brigit, and is largely concerned with the claims of her church’s and therefore the sept’s power and jurisdiction. It succeeds brilliantly. In less than 50 years, Kildare reigns supreme in matters spiritual and secular, and the Fotharta, which claimed Bridgit as originally a member of their sept, retained power. However, we do owe a great deal of thanks to these machinations. The pronoun "Kil" or "Cil" indicates a sacred shrine in many parts of the Celtic lands and Kildare, or ‘Cill Dara’, meant Church of the Oak Tree, was already associated with the pagan Goddess for centuries earlier. Drawing extensively on extant legend and contemporary practices, the Life of Bridgit gives us a snapshot of some of the authentic beliefs, rituals, and stories of Her worship.

Domains of Influence

Bridgid is a triune, or triple Goddess, but not a typical Maid, Mother and Matron trinity, since aging is not a feature. Instead, as Monaghan, P. (1997) points out, Brighid and her sisters “were never construed as separate goddesses but as aspects of one divinity…they were identical”, linked in the symbolism of fire in what many propose as a remnant of a primary Neolithic Sun deity. However, one can make the argument that She did in fact represent the Creatrix, Preserver, and Destroyer sequence. As Creatrix, She was the Bright Lady of Flame, or Inspiration of poets and bards. Her symbol in this aspect was the caldron. Most other crafts are under Her auspices as well. As a Spring deity, She was also most associated with fertility (an aspect hard to overcome for the Catholic saint). She was responsible for agriculture, such as crops and cattle, and healthy babies. She was literally the Bride; the wedded one. As the Preserver, She is a Mother goddess and associated with healing and medicine, especially in midwifery, “who in Ireland was honoured for her ‘protecting care’”, as Ó hÓgáin, D. (1991) reports. As the “Bright Flame of Love”, Her sway was over sexual fertility and erotic love. Her specific totem plants were the mountain ash tree, the holly berry, and the shamrock, as a symbol of Her triple aspect. As the Destroyer, in another facet of fire, Brighid is matron of smithcraft and of smiths. Her symbol in this aspect is the forge. Although at first blush this seems to be related to Her creation and craft aspects, this is the one of the only crafts that is directly mentioned in stories. Some have gone further to associate Her further with war[1], the legendary female fighting arts trainers in Celtic lore, and brigands or medieval fighters outside Christian law, as Walker, B. G. (1983) notes. Her epithet of “Bright Arrow” lend support to this claim. The connection of “the fianna, a legendary group of warriors from Celtic mythology”[2] to St. Brigit’s primary seat of Kildare and whose symbol is a harp, one of the bardic instruments, who Brighid is matron of, also indicates that might be the case. If further investigation of these links yield more results, Brighid is also a warrior Goddess, in the manner of the triple Morrigan, with smithcraft as representative of Her solar fire on earth as well as Her patronage of warfare and the martial arts.

In all Her aspects, She is most associated with fire and light; and with healing or ‘lucky’ wells, especially wellsprings, thermal waters, and most particularly milky artisan wells; especially in Her physical places of worship.

Festivals and Rituals

Festivals

Brighid’s main festival is Imbolc; also spelt Imbolg, Óimelc, Oimelc, and Oimelg, on Febuary 1st. A pastoral festival, it is best translated as “parturition”, the usual explanation relating to the dropping of lambs. Even in Britain, however, spring would not yet be fully evident, so the signs of spring, such as animal births and generation of milk, do not strike our unagrarian eyes as sufficient reason for a fertility festival. Mac Killop, J. (1998) suggests that “the visibly perceptive lengthening of the light, and therefore the anticipation of spring” is a more satisfying explanation, but there is another. Imbolc, as one of the four Great Celtic high feasts, is also on the opposite end of the calendar from Lammas or Lughnasa, or First Harvest festival on August 1st. In the four quarter solar symmetry of the Celtic world view, all of these reasons together would be more than enough to denote a sacred time and appropriateness of spring worship.

In the Christian attempt to claim of the power of Brighid as a saint, they renamed the festival “Candlemas’, meaning “Mass of the Candles”, including therefore the symbolism of the coming of light. Some modern traditions retain the link to the holiday only through the Saint, such as the Scottish Gaelic name of  Lá Féill Bhríde, and the Irish Lá íl Bride, but others are completely converted to the Candlemas form and associate it with the Christian Mother of God. There is some logic to this. Brigid as Mother Goddess never truly lost her supremacy in her native lands and St. Brigit is widely known as “Mary of the Gaels”, with many stories associating Her with the Christian Blessed Mother and Son. Sometimes St. Brigit is seen directly as Mother of the Savior, sometimes as midwife at the Nativity and foster mother of the Christos, sometimes as compatriot and assistant to Mary. In fact, the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin, which takes place 40 days after Christmas, is on February 2, the day after Imbolc. It celebrates when the Blessed Mother is Churched, or purified after the spiritual pollution of giving birth, so many stories, explanations, and confusion of the holidays, as well as the two figures, abound.

Rituals

Current traditions of Brighid in Her native lands are largely in the context of St. Brigit, though obvious parallels to Her original Goddess origins can still be found in past and extant examples. Origins of Her fertility cult and Mother aspect were notable in practices and legends. Men were originally banned from coming past the hedge at Her shrine at. Even when Christianised, Her orders retained many traditions from Her former incarnation.  St. Brigit’s bishops,  Monaghan, P. (1997) reports, had to be practicing goldsmiths, an unusual requirement, harking to Brighid’s domain of crafting, smithing, and embodiment of Fire.

One of the most telling ancient practices was the sacred Fire at Kildare itself. Cultural archeology and folklore has produced intriguing evidence of practices that indicate the Fire may have continued for centuries before St. Brigit is alleged to have lived, tended by the original pagan nuns occupying the shrine far in advance of the advent of Christianity. Reported in the Life of Brigit as already being old, it was still being maintained in 1184, as Giraldus Cambrensis records the “inextinguishable vestal fire tended by nuns”. Even at this time, men were still not allowed near the fire itself. It was also considered miraculous, in that it produced no ash in the centuries it had been burning. Contemporary accounts number nine or, more usually, nineteen priestesses tending the Fire. Both are sacred numbers of traditional Goddess worship – nine being the Triple Goddess tripled, such as the Muses, and 19 representing “the cycle of the Celtic ‘GreatYear’” – the mating of the solar and lunar calendars, as Walker, B. G. (1983) explains. Each nun was responsible for tending the sacred fire for one day at a time, and on “the eve of the twentieth day the last nun would place logs by the fire with the prayer: ‘Brigid, guard your fire, this is your night.”… In 1220, some forty years after Gerald’s visit, the Norman-appointed Bishop of Dublin grew angry at the exclusion of men from the Abbey at Kildare, as well as the obvious paganity of the sacred flame[3] and demanded they open the Abbey, claiming nuns were subordinate to priests. After their refusal, his men forced their way into the Abbey and extinguished the fire. Under Henry VIII’s Reformation, the archbishop George Browne of Dublin ensured that the flame stayed dead. However, in “1993, the flame was re-lit by Sister Mary Teresa Cullen, then the congregational leader of the Brigidine Sisters” [4], ensuring a modern order of nuns to again take up the duties and mantle of their ancient sisters.


Along with Her main shrines, such as the one at Kildare, hundreds of ancient healing wells and sacred spaces dot the landscape all over Ireland and many other parts of the Celtic world that are associated with Her name or titles. They are so numerous that many are largely unknown, except by locals, and attempts are being made to catalog them all. Many are still visited and favours are still sought in traditions that clearly go back centuries. Most closely linked with the milky white artisan springs, invoking Her as lactating Mother; other forms can include wells and caves with pure water.

The most well known ritual of St. Brigit is of course the “Cros Bhride” or Brigit’s Cross. Traditionally made out of reeds or straw, again harkening to Her fertility and agriculture patronage, it is become the most popular and recognizable symbol of the saint, and used in most ceremonies, invocations, and even heraldry.  It was “placed under the rafters of the dwelling house so as to ensure health and good fortune”, and occasionally in the cow byre to protect the animals, according to Ó hÓgáin, D. (1991).  Though the most common versions are based on the solar number of four or a lozenge shape, an authentic version is also a triskelion, harkening to Her trinity aspect as the Goddess, as demonstrated by Matthews, C. (2008). The lozenge and triskelion shapes indicate that the Cross pre-dates the Christianized saint and is an ancient symbol and rite for Brighid.  

Figure 2: How to make a Brigit’s Cross from: http://www.earthwitchery.com/makeacross.html

  

Major Stories


With such an early medieval emergence of the saint with the ancient Goddess, many stories have clearly been Christianized. However, we do have some very obvious indications of the traditional domains, attributes, and original responsibilities of the Goddess through less altered or edited versions.

One of the most famous oral tradition stories points to Her most ancient form. Brighid, in her guise of Bride, in a trial of servitude and cunning, defeats the Old Woman of Winter, the Cailleach, by turning Her to stone. Bride also steals the secret of Immortality and Youth, by using a triskelion cross of rushes in a well, and uses it to revive the land from winter, invoking all her traditional symbolism and ritual. Bride is also assisted by a druid in the form of a bird, specifically an oystercatcher, known as Gille Bridhid, or Bride’s Servant, much like a totem animal. She also obtains a birch wand and vows to use it assist any who need Her help, instructing listeners to invoke Her when they require Her aid. In this story, Bride is in essence Spring itself, which is perfectly in line with Brighid’s sacred day of Imbolc and indicates Her extreme antiquity as a representation in the wheel of the seasons itself. However, the Cailleach is also portrayed as much older, and originally one of a sisterhood herself in her youth, indicating that, as ancient as Bride is, She is still a more recent incursion.

Figure 3:  Triple armed Brigit’s Cross

Since the Church was almost exclusively responsible for literature for nearly 1000 years, the written stories are almost entirely about the Christianized St. Brigit. However, even with those, we are given insight into the previous Goddess incarnation. St. Brigit is said to have invented both whistling and the death keening, easily linked to a Goddess of bards and warfare. Her father is demoted from the Dagda, and becomes the druid Dubthach. The saint herself is reduced to founding the Abbey at Kildare and therefore made its patron. She is still portrayed, however, as having the ability to multiply “butter, bacon, and milk, to bestow sheep and cattle, and to control the weather”, as Ó hÓgáin, D. (1991) tells us. Most of her stories involve healing, or generosity in the form of giving food and cows to the needy. Some involve the dispensing of justice, especially as a trick to the wicked. As ancient protectoress of her people, St. Brigit was said to favour Lienstermen in time of war. There were said to be nineteen churches dedicated to her all over the British Isles on the eve of the Reformation, harkening back to the traditional number of priestesses at Her shrines.

One of the most well known Christianized tales pertains to the founding of her abbey. When St. Brigit asks for land for her convent, a powerful local bureaucrat, usually a chieftain or a bishop, refuses to give her any more land than her cloak will cover. In response, she lays out her cloak on the ground and it begins to spread, taking up so much land that he begs her to stop before he loses everything. In another version, she takes apart the weave of her cloak and encircles the area with the thread. In either case, it offers the spiritual and physical foundation for her abbey. In form, it is from a traditional Irish folk tale, where the trickster makes oxhide into strips to draw out a large area of land.

We also run into the problem of the confusion of the pagan Mother Goddess, the subsequent saint, and the imported Mary, Mother of God. Not only are their feast days equated, but many stories justify that association. In one story, Mary confesses that she is ashamed to be churched after the birth of the holy child and doesn’t want to be stared at. Brigit eases Mary’s fears by taking it upon herself to don garish attire, making it impossible for anyone to look at anything else, and precedes Mary down the aisle. Mary is so grateful that she permits Brigit’s feast day to precede her own ever after. There are similar stories to justify the order of the feast days, and they usually involve Brigit in her Sun deity aspect – lights in her hair or headdress, or garb that no one can look at, or can stare only at her.

Later versions are more problematic, however. St. Brigit, in her association with the sun, light, fire, and other pre-Christian attributes, manages to become entangled in symbolism from other saints from the Continent, largely Christianized deities themselves, complicating the problem of what ancient Brighid would have actually represented to Her people. We can make some educated guesses, however. St. Lucy, in particular, as the original Goddess Lucia of the reborn Light at Solstice, has her properties intermingled with the stories of St. Brigit as each of their cults gain influence. Lucy, as the Sun, becomes patron saint of eyes and eye diseases, and many of her stories and attributes are reflected in later Christian miracles of Brigit. She, like Lucy, plucks out her eyes to be less attractive to a suitor, though her healing aspect later restores her sight. Her mother is said to have an eye disease, and several of her stories feature eyes and sight, including actually giving eyes to a ‘flat faced man’. The lighted headdress mentioned in some stories, and occasional rituals for Brigit, especially seems to come from traditional Lucia worship.

Narratives also include St. Patrick, or the Father god. Though he is often dependant on Brigit’s perception, trickster qualities, mercy and justice, he is still able to instruct her, to demonstrate his pre-eminence.

Significance


Possible IndoEuropean roots

In Kildare, and in other sacred shrines of St. Brigit, the order of Brigantine nuns that tended the eternal flame were called kelles or Calliechs.   The term kelle, Kelly as a first name, O'Kelly as a last name and Kelly Green as a clan colour has also been linked (for they are often interchangeable with various forms of Calliech in the old records) as is The Book of Kell(e)s itself. The term "kelle' is still used in India in the meaning of "prostitute', and in conjunction of Mary Magdalene, often described as a temple prostitute. Like the holy houris of the ancient world, the 'kelle's may have performed a similar role. These primary priestesses would have remained unmarried to mortals and their children therefore were gifts of the Goddess and could only be of the Kelly clan, or O'Kelly, in a practice very similar to the Indian Goddess Cunti, who gave children as a gift without requirement of wedlock. It would explain why the O'Kellys were the spiritual, financial and sole caretakers of the shrine at Kildare and other shrines until fairly recently. Many scholars have linked these practices to the Indo-European shrines and temples from which they may have been imported. [5]The similarly of language and concepts cannot be overlooked, and could possibly lead to further depth of understanding.  In particular, Goddess worship in the Indus Valley and Fertile Crescent areas and highly probable links to the Calliech and Kali Ma are numerous, as are the practices and structural organization of Her Priestesses.

 

Original Contexts

Brighid was clearly a trinity Goddess of great antiquity, with shrines and cult centres all over the ancient Celtic world. In the earliest written records, we find Her aspects associated with Minerva and Vesta. With links to the Indo-European Goddesses, She is slightly younger than the deities already occupying the British Iles, but She is readily embraced as the approaching Sun, the Spring, the Healer, the fertile Mother, and even as consuming and just Death, as She takes over some of the aspects of the Old Woman herself, the Cailleach. Brighid is appealed to for aid, with the expectation of assistance, bestows generosity to those who require it, and unlike most other trickster figures, does not vindictively punish Her enemies, displaying kindness and mercy. Even as a trinity, She is the young and vigorous Mother from which all good things came, such as the technology, knowledge, and culture Her people needed to survive and thrive. She symbolized the land itself; and its people saw it as good, healing, warm, generous, just, and with enough for all. She also embodied Her people, as is shown by some tribes actually taking their name from Her.  Perhaps, then, that we can conclude that the peoples who embraced Brighid as their Mother also saw the world as a beautiful, bountiful place, worth celebrating, with kindness and justice as ideals that could be manifest in each other, offering a death with peace or righteously fighting to achieve it.  

Contemporary Women

Modern Irish women in particular are embracing Brigit as their matron saint, but also with echoes of the earlier Goddess being deliberately included. In 2014, in one of the many ceremonies at Imbolc, for example, Louth County celebrated the 7th Brigid of Faughart Festival. Incorporating the Goddess’s traditional symbolism and aspects such as bard and protectress of the land, workshops in Brigit’s cross making, circle dance, poetry, painting and organic gardening took place, as well as a professional bardic night.[6]  Healing pilgrimages and more Christianized activities also featured, demonstrating the fluid nature of the Celtic Goddess with Her saintly counterpart in the eyes of many of Her worshipers.  With modern nuns and lay orders such as Cháirde Bhríde or “Heart of Brigit” taking up the care of her sacred flame, shrines and wells are now being attended, decorated, and maintained by a new generation of Celtic women.

Wiccans, a very recent and highly popular neopaganism tradition, have embraced Brighid and Imbolc especially. As one of their Eight Great Sabbats, Imbolc is viewed as the quickening of Inspiration, new ventures, and cleansing of energies and preparation.

With Her warmth, strength, justice, bounty and independent power as a Mother and a woman, She is a model that is in sore need in an era of patriarchy, war, capitalism, and ecodestruction. Brighid still has the ability to inspire women today. As one attendee said of Her ceremonies: “I have never felt more Irish than I did that night. I felt an atavistic sense of blood connection, an awareness that I was celebrating in ways that had been part of my heritage for generations and generations. I felt as though my body were temporary, almost illusory, existing only to trace ancient sunwise paths around a holy place. As though my body reflected, like wellwater reflecting countless candles, the bodies of others -- women of Irish blood, women like me -- who had celebrated at that very place, on that very night, down through the centuries.”[7]


References



Budapest, Z. (1989). The Grandmother of Time: A Woman's Book of Celebrations, Spells, and Sacred Objects for Every Month of the Year. HarperOne
Campanelli, P. (1989). Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life. Llewellyn
Ellis, P. B. (1992) Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Constable & Robinson Limited
Green, M. J. (1997). Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. Thames & Hudson
Jordan, M. (2004). Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Second Edition. Facts on File
Mac Killop, J. (1998). Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford Univ Pr.
Matthews, C. (2008). Tales from Celtic Lands. Barefoot Books
Monaghan, P. (1997). The New Book of Goddesses & Heroines . Llewellyn Publications
Ó hÓgain, D. (1985). The Hero in Irish Folk History, Gill & MacMillan
Ó hÓgáin, D. (1991). Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopedia of the Irish Folk Tradition. Prentice Hall Press
Ó Súilleabháin, S. editor (2012). Miraculous Plenty: Irish Religious Folktales and Legends, Comhairle Bhealoideas Eireann
Walker, B. G. (1983). The Woman's Encyclopedia Of Myths And Secrets. HarperCollins Publishers
Walker, B. G. (1988). The Woman's Dictionary Of Symbols And Sacred Objects. Harperone
Wilson, K. M., Margolis, N. editors (2004). Women in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia, Volume I, A-J. Greenwood
Zucchelli, C. (2007). Stones of Adoration: Sacred Stones and Mystic Megaliths of Ireland. Collins Press




Appendix I


Websites consulted:




[1] “In the past twenty years, scholars have cast Brigit as a pre-Christian tripartite hospitaller, lawgiver, and warrior based on the British goddess Brigant” http://monasticmatrix.osu.edu/commentaria/st-brigit-ireland
[2] http://www.ngw.nl/int/ier/counties/kildare.htm
[3] http://www.unicorngarden.com/brigid.htm
[4] http://www.brigidine.org.au/about-us/index.cfm?loadref=36
[5] "Sergeant Vithana beat her with a baton saying, "Go, prostitute girl, find your brother" ('Palayan vesa kelle, ayyawa gihin hoyapan')."  http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2002/280/  Sri Lankan language. 
[6] http://www.independent.ie/regionals/argus/entertainment/busy-festival-to-celebrate-saint-brigid-29939042.html
[7] http://www.matrifocus.com/IMB04/earth.htm

Monday, February 24, 2014

Climate Change Deniers? Still? Seriously? It's the most important environmental problem there is!







Climate change denial is not, and has never been, a 'dissenting view'. Anthropogenic global warming has been accepted and taught in Universities since the 70's as a currently occurring event based on the paleoclimatology data accumulated from the past 100 years of geologic research. It’s also been confirmed by many other disciplines, such as atmospheric science, geography, oceanography, biology, chemistry, physics, and even the social sciences like anthro.  The fact that the general public only heard about AGW in the '90's does not diminish the science in any way. It was only then that the denial machine went into effect, of course, but AGW has never been in question in science. There is no other theory that fits all the current data, and more importantly, all the past data of the many eras the Earth has had high levels of carbon in the atmosphere.

AGW was and is taught the way plate tectonics and that the earth revolves the sun and gravity are accepted:  that there is no other explanation that fits all these observations as well, so they are what science considers 'truth' or 'knowledge'. Even though we can't actually see them in action, we infer those explanations from our observations. And unless you're a genius and can come up with a completely new model that explains all these thousands of papers filled with raw data and analysis every year that confirm this hypothesis, we'll just have to go with AGW as the best concept. Gravity doesn't care if you believe in it as a theory or not, either, but you can declare that as you jump out of a window and see how well that works for you.. 

What these deniers don't get is that this isn't "dire warnings." Scientists aren't just yelling from rooftops that the end is near. These are a series of predictions that range from really bad to catastrophic, based on past eras of the earth and modern trending. Scientists are just doing their job in making these public, and suggesting which parameters changing and how fast will alter the models. SOME of them are agitating actively for change, but they are in the minority. They have no stake in anything, other than that they are human and might like the human race, including their children, to continue. But those destroying the planet really do believe that these predictions are just 'warnings' and that they aren't murdering everything. Because most of them aren't that sociopathic, so they have a vested interest in hoping that the scientists are lying or wrong or misinformed or paid off.

Perpetuation of the bizarre myth that climate change is just cyclical global warming, or that colder temperatures are proof that it isn't happening, is more than unethical or criminal.  It will kill us all.  Life on Earth will continue, even if only 1% of current species survive that kind of climate alteration. But we humans are a soft species that can only handle a mild medium in the spectrum of weather and temperature that the earth is capable of, when we observe the geological record.  (Unless you think you can handle 800km/h winds?) We have very little time to make very drastic changes that tip the engine back in our favour before we are all wiped out.  There is a reason that frogs can hibernate for years and other species can go dormant when there is no water at all.  It's because their species developed in times where the earth was far less hospitable to life than it is now.  We are not such a species, and we will not survive this next, and largely induced, phase in the Earth's cycle.


For those of you who need a one paragraph summation, and missed your science classes on the subject... On Earth, heat is collected from the sun and, depending on the conditions at the time, largely by carbon and other reflectors in the atmosphere, that energy is either dissipated into space or retained to add heat to the weather engine. That engine is responsible for moving heat around in the form of winds, ocean currents, etc. The more heat in the engine, the greater disparity in temperatures in different areas of the world, and the greater strength of storms, etc.  There are times on this planet when storms could average 500km/h, and when temperature fluctuations ranged from -100 to +60C. For the past few millenniums, more energy has been released into space, making the earth milder in all dimensions. With the increase in the atmosphere of previously buried carbon, more heat is being added to the weather engine, average earth temperature is increasing, while local temperatures are becoming more extreme or altering altogether. Pretty clear, right?

In a world where it's +50 outside, or -70, or severe hurricanes or tornadoes are the norm, humans would be living on an alien world.  Like a colony on Venus, humans would have to live in underground bunkers or climate controlled cities. We could never interact with the environment again without protective gear. That's already happening in many parts of the world.  Our children would never be able to play outside for their entire lives.  Like a civilization out of science fiction, this is really what some deniers propose our solution to be, if they happen to be wrong, that is...

The entire eco-system will collapse as well. So there will be no complex life on earth for a few million years. No mammals like whales and bears and cats, no giant trees, almost no fish, most bugs gone and therefore more plants. Never to be seen in the Universe again. Solving the eco-system collapse problem seems a better solution than letting everything go extinct.

Sure, Earth has had that kind of environment many times before, and life has thrived, but not life as we are used to.  Dinosaurs survived and evolved for hundreds of millions of years before their climate change finally made them weak enough for the meteor to pop them off.  Mammals have had a relatively short stint in this new, far milder world, but now the cycle is shifting back well before its usual time.  We, as the dominant intelligent species, have either contributed to it, or can change it back to something our type of life can continue with.  Denying that we have anything to do with it, or that we can do anything about it, and should concentrate our focus on "traditional" environmental causes, makes someone a climate change denier, regardless of whatever emotional baggage they carry with that.

In most of the geological history of the Earth, the climate has been far more like Venus than what we are used to. Yes, life thrived then, but not mammalian, and not the biosphere that maintains mammalian life. In this particular incarnation of Life, we have a very narrow window of temperature that is necessary to function and reproduce. We can manage to keep warm, but cooling off is another matter. At a certain heat point, most of this incarnation of the biosphere completely breaks down. And that includes us.

Humans alone, for various reasons, become less fertile as the temperature rises for example. Include higher death rates, and you can see the problem already starting. And that is IF no one starts mass migrations to areas away from the equatorial band. Now include other mammals and support systems and you can see the magnitude. It’s not just sea level rise or crop failure. It is *human bodies* that begin to fail, as well as most other mammals and plant systems.

Life will continue on this planet, but it won't be a kind of life that can support anything that we need to survive.[1][2]

Our governments can't control everything, of course, not without complete re-organization. But simply allowing our economic systems alone to decide if our environment is polluted, or determining if our non-renewable resources are left behind for our children, is madness. Governments MUST start showing long term leadership and make the decisions that will permit our ecosystems and resources to sustain themselves for the next generations. And not just for the human populations…

Lowest possible carbon is the only way to go. The feedback loops make our current course a death sentence, but restoration, including re-integration of carbon, can save most of our ecosystem. Adaptation is a myth. Science and tech can't do that for us. That's why compromise and slow alteration simply won't work. We, and this entire eco-system, are way too squishy and vulnerable to survive the change in climate. However, there is still time to reverse the trend. More than we need, in fact. Rainforests need to be encouraged to be rainforests again, wetlands back to wetlands, carbon taken out of the atmosphere and put into plants, where it should be. Yes, we have much more than the usual carbon in this kind of system, but we can still compensate. This system is designed to do what it was doing, and can revert in some cases in less than a decade. Its natural equilibrium *wants* to go there. I'm not a conservationist. I'm a Restorationist. And it's still possible. If we stop the damage we are doing now, and reverse the trends. [3]

The environmental movement in this moment IS Climate Change. Biomes moving to different areas due to local alterations; severe and far more violent events, water loss, food growing areas shifting...  What the heck do you think the environmental movement is?  Putting litter in it's place?  All those contaminants in our air and soil?  Those may have been the galvanizers 20 or 30 years ago, but they are nothing to the serious issues facing the current life on earth as we know it. If you can't stand with us, at least get the heck out of the way while we try to save the last remnants of this ecosystem from going the way of the Age of the Dinosaurs, or the Age of Insects, or the Age of...



Further reading, including the Climate Change and the Integrity of Science[i], raw and interpreted data from many different disciplines[ii], and some of the alleged controversies, like denier scientists[iii] and “Climategate”[iv]




[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12781636

[2] http://www.harryfisch.com/pdf/Global%20Temperature%20change%20and%20Fertility.pdf

[3] http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9364000/9364044.stm





[i] Data doesn't change, but we learn better how to interpret and where to look for more:
Scientists' Statement and Response on Climate Change and the Integrity of Science http://tinyurl.com/373c5pp

[ii] One of the many disciplines that have yielded this data for 100 years, and how it is used to create future projections:  (and has one of the coolest names)
paleolimnology

I loved paleoclimatology, but it certainly didn't receive the attention them than it does now!  From boring cores samples in back rooms of museums to media scrums!  How glamorous for them...

Paloeclimate Dummies (or Tea Partiers): complete with charts, over the Epoch, last ice age, 400,000, and 500 mya!

Hydrology data and interpretation:
Global Warming and the Hydrologic Cycle
Global Warming and the. Hydrologic Cycle: How are the Occurrence of Floods,. Droughts, and Storms Likely to Change?   Full Marshall Institute paper
Arctic hydrology during global warming at the Palaeocene/Eocene thermal maximum

[iv] And Now to Discuss Those Hacked Emails
(since most of you and the media haven't actually read them, this is what's in them)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Manifesting the Dream: On Religious Orgs, Pagan Abbeys and our Order in particular

Pentagram - Church of Santa María d'Azougue,Betanzos, A Coruña, Galicia, Gallaecia

In previous posts, we have already covered: how to join or create pagan communities; and historic and modern cloistered communities. Next up in our Abbey series; more of the benefits of establishing modern religious organizations and how we envision our Order creating those spaces.

Advantages of our non-denominational (and not just different varieties of Wicca) 
pagan organization, and religious institutions in general, are many.


Incorporation and Societies


A legally religious corporation or society in Canada has the ability to:

- Own property. i.e. creating and maintaining safe space. Not just renting. Including ministry work such as permanent churches, inner city safe spaces, etc.

- Ordain, a perform legal ceremonies, such as marriage. Currently, the only forms of Paganism that have organized to this degree in Canada are Wiccan. I'm not Wiccan, and like Spiritual Humanism and other forms of Humanism, the evaluation of one's channelling of the divine should NOT be a requirement for clergy. We can all do that. Or not, depending on your personal belief system and your skill level. Heh. All I need to know is, say, can you MC a good wedding or funeral, or counsel well, and does your community support you? That is mostly enough to satisfy the need.

- Support Native Elders and other professional religious who are having difficulty obtaining legal status or are being otherwise hassled by institutions. It's friggin' hard even to do smudges working with prisoners and guards or in hospitals or schools sometimes, for example. Legal docs can help solve some of those problems by lending legitimacy to fellow professional religious that request it.

- Projects get easier to do, like co-ops, or microloan programs, publishing houses, or abbeys. Also encourages full time clergy, such as nuns, monks, and other priests.

Our problem in paganism in particular has always been organization and communication, and everyone has to re-invent the wheel in every new location. A seriously inefficient, as well as illogical, situation. A national supporting body, providing information and other resources, would save oodles of time, money, and effort. There is also the problem of where those who have different influences from many traditions, like Christian witches or Jewitches or eclectics, go to worship and get together, to organize, and to be validated and do work in the world. Pagan Humanism is ideally suited to provide that space. Paganism have always been tolerant of other traditions, as well as pantheist, and can provide an emotionally and spiritually satisfying experience for those who might otherwise not feel welcome in most other communities, without insisting on following any set of traditions or deities, or even, and this is the kicker, any deity at all. It's always better to be MORE inclusive than less, wouldn't you say?



Structure


Our choice, being who we are, is:

- Collective environment, with overseeing bodies to ordinate, provide continuity and support, and solve disputes. Like the entire Green Party of Canada, it's not actually difficult to achieve, especially with modern tech. Groups or individuals can propose projects, expenditures, visions, etc. The entire body can vote on providing funds, support, or other resources. Projects are all volunteer, no assignments. That way everyone brings their entire energy, and they can leave a project or the organization when they wish. A gestalt entity.

- Board of Directors - Emergency and day to day decision making, with ratifications by members where required. And to point directly at someone for holding the bag on certain issues, as it were... Also, required for a non-for-profit corporation in Canada, it turns out...

- Council of Elders - As a body of second thought, for those decisions that need some further consideration, if the Board may have got it wrong, if there is a dispute that the Board can't solve, and for moral and ethical drive.

- Up to three Leaders, largely as Spokepersons. Because you need someone the press can talk to... Movements have a tendency to fizzle out when the Leader(s) leaves or dies, unless they are deified, which is rare. Although it is actually easier to 
encourage members to join with a created Cult of Personality, and group loyalty is higher, it is far more vulnerable to corruption and ultimately more fragile if the Leader dies, leaves, or is discredited. Though harder to get going and generate group identity, I have no intention of having everything we've all worked for dissipate because we lose the face on the stamp. However, it can be handy to have a face as a known symbol and to rally around, so spokesperson Leaders are still a darn good idea. Used correctly, of course...


Funding


Donations vs. grants vs. fundraising vs. products and services:

Donations are always lovely, but never to be relied upon. We can't ever count on donations or grants. They are the gravy, not the meal. WAYYY too many pagan groups, for example, have hoped that the community will simply 'help them out'. It doesn't happen. The old abbeys used to support themselves by being as self-sufficient as possible, taking students, making products of use to the community, like medicine. It has to be funded with the same eco-capitalism in mind. The ends definitely does not justify the means in this case. Or most cases, really. 

In a University, there are oodles of disciplines working side by side, and each is finding fulfilment and increasing their own knowledge, but they are all working together. Modern abbeys must, as all abbeys have in the past, support themselves. We can produce items that are in keeping with the spiritual pursuits of our members, such as sacred crafts, but we can also consider services such as a publishing company, group home, health food co-op, holistic healing and retreat business, money lending co-op, pagan and women's insurance org., and an arts group. When we can, of course. Methods to support ourselves and our families in Right Lifestyle: with safety, purity, determination, and honour, should be a huge draw. (Hel, I was fired twice in one year for my religious beliefs alone; rather than my safety and ethics code, which were also too high, apparently. Darn integrity...) I also want more pagans or alternative lifestyle folk to be able to count on financial assistance for insurance, mortgages, etc. (without some idiot passing judgement), financial instructions like co-ops, microloan programs, and eventual credit union and insurance mutuals. It only took the women's mircroloan program in India ten years to go from a few hundred dollars to ten million. This isn't India, of course, but that kind of growth is still possible here. 
Don't let anybody tell you it's gotten better for women in the financial world, either. I've run and started my own businesses, and had a life insurance licence. It has been hell trying to get anyone to deal with me fairly. (And I'm smarter and more attractive than the average bear. Heh.) Apprenticeships will also help attract and train people, if we already got Masters teaching certain skills... We are open to the ideas, passions, and expertise of our members.

Currently, we generate income and promote with:

1) Retail and wholesale herbal and stillroom product business - online and itinerant.
2) Training and apprenticeship
3) Lectures and speaking engagements
4) Food and whole foods co-ops

With capital, those can easily expand into:

1) Microloan programs
2) Physical retail locations
3) Training centres
4) Hospitality ventures
5) Healing and retreats
6) Cloistered communities

The Order is a facilitator for projects and expressions of spirituality. We can back members and non-members, providing space, funding, networking, or guidance.

Membership Criteria


Different levels of involvement will be available for different levels of commitment.
- Cloistered community: nuns, monks, hermits, etc.
- Professional in-the-world members: priestess and priests, Celebrants
- Lay members: beguines, outreach workers
- Volunteers

Different levels of privileges, e.g. voting, and differing resource support for different levels. For the most casual, they must only agree to accept and facilitate everyone's else's path, or be in agreement with our principles and goals, etc. Again, alot like the Greens. Heh. I'm not re-inventing the wheel or anything. I'm lazy. More like a combination of a full church, like Unitarians, plus the broadened focus of a Pagan United Way. For the most devoted, such as nuns, we will offer even more than other Orders of dedicants: room and board for as long as they stay with us, training, sponsorship in formal education and other bonuses for them and their families, and if they chose to leave us, a repayment of their sweat equity and any investment monies with interest, depending on how long they were with us. That way, no one feels they are taking too much of a personal risk, even when dedicating their lives to spiritual pursuits.

- No one can be ousted, except by conviction of criminal act that is in the moral realm. (Parking tickets don't count.) But no one has to work with you either, and if everyone wants to have you transferred 'cause you're acting like a dictator or miss the point of the project or any number of serious personality conflicts, that's final. You can decide where else you want to go or to be solitary, and still supported at your level of commitment. Thus, hermitage can be encouraged, and power plays or groups cliques discorporated.

One of our goals will be to ordain locals, regardless of their affiliation. Humanist priests are usually called Celebrants. One of the primary questions an applicant for ordination have to prove to us is that you can professionally MC ceremonies. Local signatures and maybe a video would easily show that. Nobody can certify you as a Divine conduit, really. I CAN tell if you can give a satisfying performance for a wedding, though... 

Pagan Humanism solves the issue of the different pagan paths very nicely. This is really a boon for those who are having difficulty finding their place in major religions or philosophies, like Christian witches or atheists, or being recognized by government as legitimate.

Abbey of the Green Flame


Imagine: an actual place where one can dedicate one's life to voluntary simplicity, learning and using one's knowledge for humankind's benefit, providing a retreat to those who are ill and helping those who are ill to achieve full health, practising one's art, all without worrying about how to make one's daily bread... Interest has already been expressed for this kind of co-ordination and professionalism several years ago. I would join one if I could find it. If you can't find it, make it, is my motto... 

My abbey will be a modern one, designed to meet the needs of modern nuns and monks, not a re-creation. Collective structure, wholistic design, green tech... The entire abbey will be pagan humanist, with many diverse beliefs and practices able to be accommodated. Rather like the inclusiveness of Unitarians, but more active and In the World, if you will. Different Paths, like Facilities, will allow everyone to study, perfect, and perform the lifestyle of their Calling. The Path of the Spoon, for example, teaches cookery and food as an act of worship, providing Masters and a place to practice in that space, without requiring dedication to Deity. My own speciality is the stillroom, and I train in the traditional manner...

However, I personally need a Celtic reClaimist subset for those of us of that persuasion, so my own sect will be a female Brigantine order in the style of the original kelles, with a focus on the Flame of Kildare as Her manifestation. Music, bardic arts, poetry, healing, the warrior arts and scholarship will be the main focii.  A full religion, not just a congregation and some ceremonies. A Circle, but much bigger. I'm focusing on women because they usually get the circle concept faster, but men and other genders are free to join, of course.

One of the projects I'm embarking on if I move to Newfoundland is a co-ordination with local universities to complete a scholarly work that translates their research of the local folk trads into a practical Celtic magic manual. In Canada, European pagan heritage and beliefs have up until now only be recently recognized as a rich tradition of 'folklore', but it now has whole University departments dedicated to it. Like their music, some of it remains uncorrupted from the 16th century. My partner comes from the Codroy Valley, which is nearly all Scottish, many of whom came from Cape Breton. They still speak with a Scottish accent. There are also those of French decent, English that is linguistically nearly identical to Shakespeare's, and Irish. All remain relatively uncorrupted, as they left before the Removals, or Potato Famine, or Corn Laws decimated their relative folk cultures. Currently, there are in flux of scholars from the UK and other European countries who come to study the more primitive, more culturally complete music, tales, dance, and other folk traditions in Canada. For the Celtic nations, many of these traditions are accumulated in the halls of academia, but not yet reClaimed by Celtic trad witches of the world. A lifetime's worth of work, and many books, await the dedicated cult leader, I mean, spiritual guide. Heh, heh.



Each of our Founders and Affiliates has their own vision for doing sacred work in the modern world, with more inclusion of diverse spiritualities and encouragement of fulfilling lifestyles. One of our affiliates, The Copper Horse Abbey, for example, focuses on wholistic wellness for animals; horse medicine and natural training in particular. Pagan Humanism is a rich, accommodating environment and we very much welcome other viewpoints, input, energy, and spirit. Make suggestions or join us as a member, volunteer or group affiliate! We are here to support you!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Traditional Apprenticeships: Training in the modern Pagan Abbey



My recent activities[i] have unexpectedly netted alot of inquiries from those wishing to study under me. Explaining different levels of involvement so frequently has helped refine the details better in my own mind, which is the major reward for the teacher, isn't it? In this case, we are specifically referring to the training in healing and other technology, often associated with women, primarily from the European Aboriginal traditions[ii], that is taught at our pagan Abbeys[iii]. However, traditional apprenticeships have many common elements, including the relationship between teacher and student, which we will also explore.

Lessons or sessions and apprenticeships are two different streams. For the first, they are in-depth teaching opportunities to learn the intricacies of stillroom work for a more hobby use, perhaps as an introduction, or for personal healing. I do them usually for groups, with a full lecture and demo[iv], and in my home on an individual basis. They require alot of prep and materials on my part, so I often have to charge for them. Depending on materials and tech, as well as what kind of detailed help the student requires, fees can range from $25-100/hour: the higher level being full health consultations. 'Course, I also trade for doing dishes, for example, since my dishwasher broke down... This is also traditional, since most people don’t have chickens to trade anymore...

Apprenticeship on the other hand is for those who believe this might be their Calling. It involves a far more intense and thorough program, with the expectation that apprentices repay their teaching in sweat equity rather than cash, and often continuing on to practice professionally. It is longer, too, and harder, usually involving an eventual restructuring of one's life to take on this goal.[v]

I take applicants for both methods, and people can switch streams whenever they like, if they are able to. I don't take on apprentices who are healing themselves of a severe condition, for example. There is far too much going on in someone's life when they are healing to add the intensity of a full time apprenticeship, too. They stay Students until they are more fully recovered.

With both methods, the dropout rate is still pretty high. Similar to the attrition rate for mental health programs, if applicants give up, it's almost always in the first six weeks. Most people are not prepared for the revelations that occur when immersed into traditional healing, and what that means for themselves, their lives, their families, and how they fit in the world, or the world fits around them. It's a profound shift, and many people are simply not equipped to deal with it at that time. It's my job to help them with that, of course, but it's still too big a leap for many. 

It is especially intense for those who seek the apprenticeship stream. 

I take on very few apprentices. Since I also require the spiritual component, potential apprentices are accepted in similar ways to novitiates in other paths.[vi] Sometimes, they simply need to apply, and I am satisfied that they are ready to dedicate themselves and meet the challenge. Occationally, I allow them to commit to the apprenticeship stream only after a trial period, especially if they seem adamant on the surface but some underlying issues are holding them back or making progress difficult. In certain cases, an Initiation or personal trial is required, for those who require a more visceral acknowledgement of the contract and to prove they won't fail out when the hard work begins.

No matter how they arrive to the path, however, all apprentices are chosen for their dedication not just to healing others, but to their own personal growth, character, and empowerment. No one can heal anyone else, of course. Only patients heal themselves, no matter what you cut out of them or dose them with. Someone who feels they are done with suffering will die no matter how successful the treatment is, and others will rise from their deathbeds with remarkable courage if they have the will.[vii] The healing arts are to facilitate that recovery as much as possible. So I dislike the term Healer, since healing is entirely done by the patient (except laying on of hands, which I have yet to have proven to me), but since I can't really come up with a better term, it will have to suffice. 

Because of this, however, one of the best methods to increase chances in patient outcome, in traditional or conventional healing, is having a fully actualized Healer. This is self-evident, but not included at all in conventional training, though very much a part of traditional healing in many parts of the world.[viii] [ix] Someone who has actively worked to eradicate their flaws, like racial or sexist prejudices, is a better patient advocate, for example, and can hear the vulnerable in a more meaningful way.[x]  A healer who has cultivated humility will be more available to assist in vital procedures or discussions that other professionals might find beneath their dignity. A healer who practices Detached Compassion[xi] will be strong and kind to those who invoke great pity in others, and the “Wounded Healer” such as a shaman can devote far more energy and time to palliative care than those who are struggling with their own mortality. Modern conventional healers are trained largely as technicians, under the Body is a Machine model, which is totally different from nearly all forms of traditional healing, and while they have achieved certain miracles, it is a very new form of medicine. Like any youth, it seeks to make it own way without listening to its Elders, and only with maturity can we hope to integrate successful traditional wisdom with current practices.

Let's pick just one example to illustrate. PTSD[xii], often induced in the Western world by childhood or adult sexual or physical abuse, is a far more common condition than it should be. In those drawn to paganism, which is my worldview, there is a much higher incidence of seekers who have been wounded in this way – closer to 85%. As many grew up in other traditions, this often represents a failure of their previous systems to satisfactorily contextualize their experiences. So it is with distressing frequency that I encounter this deeply rooted issue in my students and apprentices. For those who have not yet dealt with this in their lives, it can be a terrible blind spot that can influence how they treat others coming to them for help. Unable to deal with the darkness in themselves, they often miss the same symptoms in others, or the reason for them. As their Mistress, it is part of my duty to guide them come to terms with their pain in whatever manner they best respond to: from medicine and therapy to intense spiritual journeys.

So, when I take on apprentices, I train them as traditional professional pagan healing nonnes. (I currently don't train men as apprentices, for various reasons.[xiii]) This means not only studying for months or years to learn the traditional tech, but they also dedicate themselves to spiritual self-improvement. They examine their own lives for fatal flaws and empower themselves. Because of this, there is far less to cloud their judgements in their examinations of others, and they are more able to give of themselves with sincerity and reverence, and not simply as a drain on their resources. To that end, we emphasize knowledge, honour, duty, integrity, courage, discipline, deep personal self-examination in all the dark places, and ultimately, vows, if the dedicant choses to make this her life's work.

For method and technique, we have to adapt to the modern era we live in, but there is a plethora of material to build upon from the past [xiv] [xv] [xvi], as well as some current best practices. We use whatever resources are necessary, including other acknowledged professionals and accredited institutions. For example, our nuns learn how to 'read' a client, such as body clues, intuiting and micro-expressions[xvii], to better understand a client's actual issues, especially those they might not be willing to divulge, and investigate many other possibilities that most healers never know to look for. They also learn how to make the remedies themselves, like salves, decoctions, alcohols, poultices, candies, and healing foods, as well as put forward recommendations and train clients in their use. Some finish university degrees in our specialities, such as counselling and folklore. We also teach how to work within the laws and health requirements of each country, partner up with other members of the healing team, and not step on the toes of conventional med, the pharmaceutical industry, and food and drug administrations, which have a tendency to bite.

However, one of the most important reasons for me for the rigorous selection process and the choice of taking only a few apprentices is the personal trial they represent. By agreeing to be someone's Mistress, or mentor, or sifu, or yogini[xviii], you commit to a lifelong relationship. You must not only train them in your particular art, but also move them along in their spiritual and personal journey. As you help them discover themselves, you volunteer to be their Dark Mirror, which requires a great deal of trust and honesty on both sides. As the training continues, it becomes impossible not to have a close and ultimately vulnerable relationship. I still sit down with my first Mistress, who is now nearly 70, and we discuss everything from our sex lives to our fears, our dreams, and our successes. We give each other insights in as open and often blunt way as we can, because no one else knows us better, and almost no one is prepared to be as honest and genuinely helpful. To this day, it still helps both of us in our lives and continually assists us to become more developed and whole persons.

Fantasy novels are full of students who have betrayed their masters' trust and try to destroy them. However, the reality is not far from that myth. In this kind of intimate relationship, as such tend to become, the wrong selection of student can be a devastating blow. Whether it's your business secrets or proprietary formulations, or your personal life lessons that you have imparted as examples for training, an apprentice that proves him or herself unworthy of carrying such secrets can make a huge mess of your life or career. Like most close relationships, really... I have some experience in this kind of heartbreak, and it guides my reluctance, my selection and my occasional trials or character proofs for applicants. Sadly…

Student or apprentice, I take my role as a sacred trust, and do my very best to give that person what I feel they most need: whether it be simple healing knowledge, physical health, spiritual self-examination, business and social training, or character building and empowerment. Even if the healing must be done when they aren't aware of it, which is much harder… It can take a great personal toll, but the rewards of watching other people’s lives unfold beautifully are worth it, and can bring so much joy. I am always honoured to be asked to serve my clients and students, and with hard work, personal sacrifice and dedication, to train others go out into the world committed to serve, heal, and fight for justice.





[xvi]  "More than anything else, however, Brigid is renowned for her hospitality. The poor and the infirm come in their multitudes. She makes provision for the sick, tending to them with her knowledge of contemporary medicine. Kildare becomes a place of holy pilgrimage for all, from the prominent and powerful to the lowly and forgotten."