*My contribution for my grove's Imbolc Newsletter*
Lets talk Celtic Plants/Herbs:
Midwinter, Imbolc, is a beautiful time where the earth begins to warm up from the cold of winter in celebration of this transitional time many of the Celtic culture, and others all around the world celebrate the Goddess Brigid in all of her many forms.
One of the attributes of the Goddess Brigid is that she was a powerful healer, wise in the ways of Celtic medicine. There are few accounts of the herbs she would have used but many plants native to Ireland were used by the Celts.
One such plant is still used today and as it flowers early during this midwinter time of year, it is a perfect plant to focus on for Imbolc.
This plant is Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara.
The history, and modern use, surrounding Coltsfoot is that it is a natural throat soother and a valuable natural cough remedy but it is far more than only that. For thousands of years this herb has been gathered and used to treat a variety of ailments that pertain to the throat and lungs.
This is quite fitting as this is the time of year when colds, bronchitis, and the flu can be at their cruelest and it would seem like a blessing from the Gods that this plant were to spring up and give warmth and hope when it may be needed most.
And now for the science!
Coltsfoot contains a lot of the natural chemical mucilage, which is soothing to the throat. It contains immune stimulating inulin as well. When tested against various bacteria in 1982 it was found to have antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus (staph infection), Bordetella pertussis (whooping cough), Pseudomonas aeurginosa (the blue-green pus bacteria that causes disease in plants, animals and humans) and Proteus vulgaris (an intestinal bacteria that causes wound and urinary tract infections).
Because Coltsfoot is anti-bacterial, a good expectorant, anti-inflammatory, and stimulates the respiratory and cardiovascular systems it is a great herb for treating cough, bronchitis, laryngitis and whooping cough.
Powerful in ancient times, in bloom during this time of year when we celebrate the healer Goddess Brigid, Coltsfoot is truly an amazing Celtic plant with a rich history and place in our modern world as well.
Paine, Angela. The Healing Power of Celtic Plants: their history, their use, and the scientific evidence that they work. O-books. Winchester, UK. 2006 (ISBN: 978 1 90504 762 8)
Every now and then I get distracted by nature.
Ok, very very often, I get distracted by nature.
Recently (thank you biology class and the understanding of phenotypic changes among birds haha) I became aware of a species of crow that appeared to be wearing a grey hood/cloak and it fascinated me.
It fascinated me so much that this crow has visited me in both dreams and meditations recently so I feel it is more than worthy of some additional research and writing about. Much like the initial fascination with discovering this species of bird, in meditation and dreams it just seems to "be there" minding its own business and yet still distracting my attention. This has sometimes lead to the message that I am missing something, or need to slow down and pay attention to something new, but its also puzzling given my relationship with The Morrigan.
Last night I had a dream that it was snowing outside and I was walking with purpose somewhere, I cannot remember what I was doing, but I do remember there being random birds about and a hooded crow was among them sitting on a barbed wire fence. As I walked past I caught sight of it and I felt an overwhelming excitement that I had found this bird, that I had just learned about, in the wild. I remember thinking about how beautiful this bird was contrasted with the snow. I don't remember the rest of the dream, but when I woke up I could remember the bird sitting on the wire and the excitement it brought me to find it in nature when I had just become aware of its existence.
What originally struck me as fascinating about this bird is that it isn't black like the crows I am use too. A lot of people see crows as dark, creepy, foreboding, or omens of death and bad luck. This has a lot of historical backing and most of our deities of death and war are associated with some form of dark animal like a raven or a crow. The Morrigan is no exception.
But this crow, has all of the same biological ferocity of a standard crow, and yet maintains the illusion of a bird that is, softer. The hooded crow is, in fact, hooded from those darker (often times perceived as negative or "evil") attributes. It is unique and mesmerizing to me.
So the research began, and low and behold, I discover that not only is this bird native to Ireland/Scotland and Northern Europe but there are specific tales in which The Morrigan appears as a hooded crow. She appears NOT as the typical black as night crow, but a hooded crow.
Talk about feeling slapped upside the head.
The more I thought about it the more it fits with my perceptions and interactions with The Morrigan. Many people seek her darkness, many of her followers know her only as a death and bloody war Goddess. But there is far more to her than that. It's easy to see her as those things, but its wise to remember that there is far more to Her than what her stereotypes are. There is always more to learn and far more to understand by listening.
She is no fluffy princess by being a hooded crow, but she is also not a romanticized vampire queen when she is a black one. Its not that simple, its not that black and white, no deity is.
She is complex, often mysterious and full of transformation and illusion when she means it. She could blend in with society well enough that in the Epic's she was not detected as the Goddess she was, but she also instigated men to warfare and prophesied death.
Every now and then its refreshing when the gods reach out and snap us out of our closed-box thinking without us realizing it.
They tell us how and who they are, not the other way around.
While doing my Samhain Ritual Recap assignment I realized that I had never saved my post ritual insights in their long form. This is WAY longer than the requirement but I would like to have it in my Druid Journal anyway.
I represented the Demon of Suicide. This was a role I actually volunteered for because I knew it would be challenging for me. By accepting the role of representing this demon I knew I could not make an offering, so my role was my offering. This is the most powerful offering I could give, as this is a personal demon to me.
As a survivor of attempted suicide, I know this demon on a powerful and intimate level. I’ve felt the claws of this demon in my own heart and I know that far to many people not only have experienced suicide in one way or another but have also felt depression creeping into their lives. The demon I chose was one that resonates on some level with nearly everyone and although it’s a hard thing for me to look back on, but also a very good thing for me to grow and show my strength from.
Our grove leader (and all our members) stressed personal grounding for us demons because of all the hate that would be projected our way and I did my own version of grounding for this. One of my patron goddesses is the Celtic Battle Goddess the Morrigan, she is known as Mother Death and she is terrifying. She both invokes (sometimes demands) courage and strength but also offers protection for those loyal to her. All week before the ritual, I made offerings to her and asked her to give me the fierceness I needed to face this subject matter on such a raw level. Before changing into the robes during the ritual I held (and wore) black obsidian to absorb negative energy, and lit black candles for protection. These personal protection methods were very unique to my personal spirituality, and the other 2 demons had their own unique methods for bracing themselves or dealing with their role as well.
While acting in place of the Demon, my offering was genuine. The words from my mouth were words I have thought, words I have said, words that carry and resonate inside everyone who either deals with depression or has dealt with suicide in their life somehow. My emotion was genuine, I was sobbing behind the mask. Recreating the mental state of a once broken me, was the strongest offering I could make to rid myself of this demon that still creeps back into my life unwelcome. Several guests had personal things to say to passed loved ones through me.
I heard personal and deeply emotional messages to the dead.
Heavy, powerful, important things that I would never share with another soul.
While I was prepared for the hatred during banishment, as everyone shouted at us, what I got back was 100% the opposite. I was very taken back. Standing where I stood, I saw unity. I saw POWER. I saw people crying and screaming to be RID of these things. It was as if every single person were filling the room with the emotion “I HURT, and I want you gone, I want to move on and heal”
I felt Love.
I felt Community
I felt every single person in there form a wave of support for each other with the same goal to banish these demons from their lives so they could heal.
As I looked into the eyes of each person that I dared make eye contact with, I saw what Suicide leaves behind, I saw the faces and emotions that would have been each one of my own friends and family had I succeeded in my goal over a decade ago. It was something every survivor should be able to feel because, wow, if they felt what I felt up there from so many strangers, they just might think twice.
That room was full of support and love, through the tears and through the cursing.
It was powerful and it took the breath out of me. I truly felt that while I was acting as the physical representation of this demon, that the demon had left the room far faster than I did.
Once outside, I broke again and began to cry just being overwhelmed by the energy of everyone in that room. My heart hurt for everyone, including myself, but mostly for everyone in that room. I felt personally supported by everyone far more than overwhelmed by taking on any demon or hatred.
Once I collected myself, I could not get those robes off of me fast enough. I wanted that demon OUT of my life and off my body as much as anyone else in that room wanted it gone by shouting and screaming. I’m surprised I didn’t tear the robe as I flung it from me. After the 3 of us disrobed, we stood outside and smudged each other with sage and collected ourselves before returning.
I was reeling from the energy and emotion until the end of the ritual when I could give my son a tremendous hug. The entire week after the ritual, the weight of some of those messages guests gave me, saddened my heart, and I did need to process them and I finally gave a final offering to the ancestors of my own accord asking them to send those messages to their loved ones because they were messages of love and were not meant for me to hold on too anymore.
It helped. Opening up those wounds for myself ultimately was a good thing for me, hard, but genuine. In my experience, when our rituals are genuine and very personally driven, they have the biggest impact on everyone.
This is really the only ritual of the year that takes on such dark themes and that our members are in this sort of position but I will say that preforming in ritual really does open you up to feeling things on a much deeper level and for anyone, like myself, that is constantly exploring their spirituality it provides an opportunity to really see things from many different perspectives.
Lots to comment on but so little time to actually do it!
Midwinter has made its beautiful presence known this Imbolc and I did not think it was possible but this year has actually carried more meaning than last year did even.
It is so weird to me that I had never gave any thought to Midwinter/Imbolc in the past but after just a little over a year it has quickly become one of my more meaningful High Days of the year.
I never imagined that the High Days that would resonate the most to me would be Lughnassadha, Yule and Imbolc. Even Samhain and Beltane have fallen behind these three, it's certainly been an interesting year for sure.
Last year was the first time I had celebrated Imbolc publicly. I had always known it as Candlemas and aside from doing "witchy things" (I "quote" this because I really didn't know what or why I was doing what I was doing) and lighting a bunch of candles I really felt no connection outside "Ooooh, fire, candles! Yay burning things!" Juvenile to admit, yes.
Last year, my studies through the ADF Dedicant Path and with the Celtic hearth culture I began to know the relevance of the high day. I learned of Brigid's Feast and of the earth warming up to prepare for spring. My mind filled with so many wonderful things that I had never thought of before. Everyone loves spring, but what about that beautiful transition time between Winter and Spring? What about the delicate new beginning of life, the victorious first new growth boldly daring the chance of frost? What about the need for heat in every way? From the sun's heat down to earth, and the earth keeping that heat to move us to spring. The air outside is still cold enough for hearth fires and the need for warmth to get us through this second half of winter, but now we see hope, beauty, warmth, and growth and know that springtime will be here soon and free us from the frozen winter.
I will admit, the Imbolc ritual our grove put on was ultra distracting for me to really feel a strong connection. I greatly admire our Arch Druid who preformed the rite for this special High Day, but there were over 80 people in attendance and as our members were not involved much, the Bards were dispersed and not a big part of this ritual at all. I had to both be a welcoming member/voice for our grove but I was also helpless to the ritual itself. Because of such, I tried to let myself just enjoy what was going on but there were always things here and there that brought me back and took away my focus.
In the middle of the guided Brigid meditation I was really feeling the first real connection of the rite and then I had this overwhelming feeling/heat flash like a flame behind my eyes and I knew that I needed to open them. I would like to say Brigid said something to me, but I heard no words, just felt a natural goose bump instinct to open them. When I did, I saw that one of the plastic planters that I had prepared with soil and taper candles for a ritual decoration had caught on fire. The tall candles had been completely consumed and the plastic holder was going up in flames.
During a meditation to Brigid, with everyone's eyes closed.
As much as I would have loved to finish the meditation, I KNEW, there was a reason I had such an urgent pull to open my eyes. The fire may have initially been a good sign, but it had gotten so out of control that I had been warned about it. So I quietly went and put it out. It was such a strange feeling to feel both sad about missing the meditation but also to feel like Brigid had a more important *mission* for me instead. It is as if a year ago she wanted me to learn and follow her nurturing guidance, and this year she spoke to me as a protector with a warning.
Yet another sign I take that Brigid is pointing me more to the warrior aspects of both herself and myself. I can be welcoming and nurturing to our guests but I am also a protector and I fully believe that Brigid was showing this important path to me.
The ritual itself was beautiful (as they always are) but nothing will stand out like that the fire and that mediation for me.
I preformed my private Imbolc at home with my own shrine and felt the strong sense of connection to the kindred that I had missed in the public ritual. I re-potted flower bulbs, I meditated (both Two Powers and guided meditations), I set up my altar, I purchased and blessed wildflower seeds that will hopefully attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds this summer, I went on a walk with my family through the wetlands and found ducks, squirrels, and a woodpecker, I have heard the mating calls of bullfrogs outside my window, I have seen the new buds of growth from the meristems of tree branches.
I have FELT Imbolc. Ive felt growth and warmth and hope.
The last thing I will note was my omen for my Imbolc ritual.
I decided since it was a rather quick ritual to draw only one tarot card for Brigid and one virtue token to focus on from the kindred.
Brigid gave me: Strength
The Kindred gave me the virtue: Courage
I feel I would have to be a fool not to see the warrior path in front of me. There is no denying it.
Today in the warmth of a beautiful midwinter sun I went on my first 2 mile run of 2016. My asthma was strong, but I will persevere and get my body back to feeling like the warrior that reflects my mind and heart.
I would like to say that I am completing my dedicant path right now.
Imbolc 2015 was my first High Day since starting this Dedicant path and we have come full circle.
Despite my spiritual focus and involvement, my path cannot be completed yet and I still have much to learn.
I've made some recent discoveries about myself, my grove and my spiritual contributions that have altered a few of my paths. (I am continuing the Dedicant path so no concerns there!)
Since Winter Solstice/Yule, I have been doing a lot of focused spiritual work, building relationships with my deitys and more strongly than ever I've had The Morrigan in my ear telling me to fight the right battles with everything inside me.
This year I have oathed to be the year of the warrior. This year I will focus on the 2nd triad of Druidic Virtues, the Warrior virtues:
I have vowed to both mental spiritual discipline as well as physical spiritual discipline. No excuses. Equal parts wit and strength with enough drive to persevere through.
I have decided that my leadership with my grove has, in many ways, distracted me from my actual spiritual callings and ambitions. Where I once found connection has been overshadowed by a million other things that cloud my mind.
At Imbolc last year, I found a connection to my community through public ritual, I felt welcomed and supported by a community and I vowed to encourage that each and every high day by being the very best that I can be.
Right now I feel that I have failed that in a few was, while I have tried hard each and every high day, I have become so distracted by external groups and grove functions outside ritual that I have not memorized the core order of ritual, I falter at invocations on the spot, I rely on scripts and lack the warmth (or chill) that is really needed for the best ritual experiences for both myself and our guests. I have not completed my dedicant path because outside of my busy home and college life, the grove has taken up all of my time to stay on top of everything possible. The past year, unofficially, I have been fulfilling the responsibilities of a co-leader for our grove and it's exhausted me to the point where I am burnt out and often times very cynical.
So I thought hard about what I wanted for myself, I talked to my deities and family and have made a few decisions.
First, I love my grove and all the members in it. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, we are human, and that is what makes us beautiful. We are ambitious and diverse.
Second, I want to bring the magic back to our rituals. Brigid keeps telling me to tend the fire, bring my strengths back home and to me, that means back to ritual. Brigid has felt more of a burning intense presence as of late and less of a maternal encouraging force. She gave me strength and support last year at Imbolc, and this year its as if she has aged with me and is telling me to use that wisdom to set passionate fire to what I hold sacred in my heart. The grove positions I was nominated for are not focused on our rituals themselves and so I feel that they are very wrong for me right now.
I've heard Brigid as of late as a strong and powerful deity and know that I need to understand her more this year as such. I need to know her fire, I need to know her smithing side (and I vow to take blacksmithing classes for this), I want to go back to my roots as an herbalist and understand the warmth of a healer. Last year I needed inspiration and nurturing, this year, I need intensity
I have called out to The Morrigan, and over and over and over I hear, "You are letting everything weaken you, cast aside what you do not need and fight for what you know to be right." She is always direct, as if commanding me to stop being so foolish because I know deep down what I want and like every other area in my life, walking on eggshells is not an option. It's simply not me.
Messages from The Morrigan in dreams, in meditations and in omen readings have said things like:
Put your feet to the earth and make some dust as you run with intensity to what you stand for.
See the reality, not the illusion.
Do not yield to impress or please others, period.
Both of these Goddesses (Triple Goddesses at that) have been telling me the same things and so I have decided not to run for a leadership position in my grove this year. (The first year with actual voted positions). I will not divert my time into areas that I feel are distracting to the focus of my place in this grove.
I will focus my energy and spirit to preforming the best damn rituals I can. I will go back to my roots among the kindred and strengthen them. I will focus my energy and attention to the Dedicant path, scholarly interests, and ADF. I will maintain my private rituals each high day and continue to uphold my oaths for the year. I will have more time for myself and my family and be able to breathe without the stress and drama that overshadowed so much last year. I will be an asset to my grove wherever I am needed and let others have the opportunities to step forward and shine.
I love my grove, but I need to thrive if I want to give them as much of me as I can. I want to give them my strengths, not skate by with "just enough".
That is fundamentally, to the core, not me.
This year I need discipline, mental and spiritual. This is the year of Warriors