Friday, 20 January 2012

Signs

Last week, as I was taking the dogs out for a walk with kids in tow, I stumbled across a dead crow, lying in the middle of the pavement. Now that, I thought, can't be a good sign.

With a lot of thought and worrying and gnawing at the innards of my mind, I came to the conclusion that it wasn't so much a sign of impending doom for myself (though I'm still not ruling that out), but that it maybe has more to do with the recent storms that have caused so much devastation and damage in the area. The storms have been nothing like I've ever seen before, and perhaps this crow was a sign to tell me that this place is hurting, and it needs something from me.

Here, mostly stuck on the sofa in pain at the moment, I've not been doing as much to maintain my obligations to this area, and if it takes a dead crow to give me a good kick up the arse, then it's perhaps time to take a hint that I really need to pick things up. During the storms I made offerings to the Cailleachan, the Storm Hags who unleash their fury in the wind and the rain, the raging waves and the rising streams. I watched the storms and breathed them in, at times I got caught up in the energy and the fury, and marvelled in what nature can do sometimes. I prayed and I sang, and on my rounds the other week, I took in the damage.

On a day to day basis, though, I think it's safe to say that I've mostly been wallowing on the sofa; the past few weeks or so haven't been great, as far as keeping on top of the chronic pain issues have gone. I've been so busy wallowing (and trying to escape at the same time, but running in the wrong direction), perhaps, that I've dropped the ball, and I need to get back on an even keel. Instead of wallowing, I need to get up and do.

So that's what I'm trying to do, getting back to concentrating on my daily devotions; my prayers and offerings, maintaining and rebuilding my relationship with this land that have otherwise been a little fudged recently. Balance must be restored, and my mistakes must be owned and owned up to.

But that's not what this post is about, really; I'm more thinking about signs in general...It's a tricky subject when it comes to a religion that otherwise emphasises that which can be found in books. There's no manual, when it comes to signs. There's nothing set in stone. For once, instead of nosing into a book and burying into research, it's something that we have to turn inwards to for answers. That can be difficult for a lot of folks, I think, and the whole mystical side of practice is something I've struggled with myself, on and off. After I finally had a bit of a breakthrough with it all, and finally got to grips with it, a dear friend said to me, "Welcome to the crazy."

Thanks. I think.

Signs are a tricky subject. You don't necessarily have to be gifted in seeing them per se (I mean, sometimes they're about as subtle as a brick in the face, y'know?), but at the same time, some people just aren't gifted, and that's just the way it is. I can't claim to be an expert in this, of course. I can't make any claims at proficiency. I try, because it's something that I've always been unable to avoid, in spite of the fact that once upon a time I might have tried to. It's just a part of me, and why run away from yourself?

It's the interpreting of signs that's often the hard part. It takes a kind of self-trust and self-knowledge that can be difficult to find; with signs, we have to be honest with ourselves, and sometimes it can be hard to do that. Sometimes there are things about ourselves that we don't to acknowledge, but in striving to be the best we can be, to uphold the values that we as Gaelic Polytheists hold dear...we must strive for truth, and strive for truth being at the heart of everything we do.

Struggling with those inner demons, sometimes we can receive signs that are so painfully obvious it's practically screaming the answer at us, and still we get totally the wrong end of the stick. Sometimes it's because we don't want to admit that we've been going about things wrong; that we've just received a negative sign. Sometimes, when life has thrown us more than a few lemons, the hard part can even be trusting in the fact that you've just had a good sign. Sometimes, we need a little guidance. Eventually, we might just get the hint.

At one point in my evolving Celtic Reconstructionist practices, I tried ogam for divinatory purposes, which included making my own set:


I chose to make them according to the colour correspondences associated with each letter; I respond strongly to colour, and I can't claim to be much of an expert with trees so using the more common tree correspondences seemed a bit pointless. I also tried a neutral set, with no colour or decoration:


Both sets - and others I've since experimented with - were put together from driftwood I found at the local beach after we moved to these here parts on the west coast; wood I collected as part of my efforts to settle in to this place. It involved a long process of offerings and building a relationship with the area before it felt right to even begin collecting anything from the local beach, and then I had to invest in the tools to burn the lettering and ogam into the wood before painting and/or treating with beeswax to preserve them.

The first set I connected with better, but ultimately I decided that ogam is not something that I really get on with. I experimented for a while with taking an ogam reading for the festivals, or when I felt it was necessary, for example, and while I did find them effective and useful in one sense, in another it never seemed to sit right with me. I'm beginning to think it was because I was limiting myself with them, and that as part of settling in here I needed to be looking around me for signs, familiarising myself with the locale and continuing to build on my relationship with it. Certainly my experimenting with the ogam helped me get more comfortable with engaging in the more mystical aspects of practice, though, and it helped solidify my thoughts on it all. Every now and then I think about going back to them; it seems a shame for them to sit in a cupboard, unused.

And so at least I managed to build on it. Birds, in particular (and in keeping with tradition, I think), form a large part of the signs I might see in general. Magpies are something that I feel have some sort of personal significance, but corvids in general have signficance to me and a lot of other folks.


As well as herons, owls, that kind of thing. A breeze picking up at the right time, clouds passing in front of the sun or moon at particular moments, the calling of birds or animals hanging the night air; and so on...

Sometimes signs can seem totally random. One time, I found a rainbow trout lying on the pavement outside my house. A perfectly whole trout, just randomly laying on the pavement...As things go, I figured it had to mean something, but that one I was totally stumped by... 

There have been times when the signs have been a lot more obvious, though. One morning of Là Fhèill Brìghde I got up to find that our back door was wide open; as signs for Bride having visited go, you can't get any stronger really.

Last Samhainn, I set out some offerings to my ancestors and had a few words before finishing off my devotions. As I stood back and looked up to the sky for any signs, I saw a band of the Milky Way shining bright and clear above me - beautifully - and then a shooting star travelling right in front of me, in the west towards the ancestors. It's not often I get something as clear as those kinds of signs, but when I do, it's a time when I feel infinitely amazed at the world around me.

And so, all this rambling brings me to the thought that - for me at least - looking for signs is one of the ways I can keep connected with the land around me. With the gods and spirits and ancestors. Without that connection, I'm adrift, wallowing, out of balance. Maybe sometimes it takes a dead crow to wake me up.

Or maybe...maybe I'm just a bit mental and making things up as I go along. "Welcome to the crazy," my friend said.

Indeed.

Addendum: Gorm over at Three Shouts on a Hilltop has some very good thoughts to add to the subject, which is well worth a read.

5 comments:

Kathryn Price NicDhàna said...

Good piece!

I think ogham is most useful as a way of mentally structuring some of the lore, and better understanding what the signs mean when they appear.

I think the challenge is to find that balance between calmly being open to listen for messages, vs trying too hard to seek them out.

But I agree strongly that looking for omens in the world around us, learning how the spirits speak in the symbols and creatures of the local landscape, is of a whole other order than just pulling féanna from a bag. The former roots us deeply in the land, opens us to a reciprocal relationship. The latter... while it can be helpful for clarification, I've seen too many people over-rely on it, even to the extent of not perceiving the signs in nature all around them.

With the appearances of animals and birds, I think it's the unusual we have to look for. If the house is surrounded by crows all the time, seeing a crow may not mean much. Well, unless a huge one lands next to you and starts punctuating your song or prayer with comments of their own ;-) Or, say, a wild creature walks up your driveway and proceeds to follow you around, or intervene in a situation where you might have been harmed. It's comforting and affirming when it's that clear-cut. But people who push for that level of intensity every day usually wind up in their imaginations rather than in a spiritually-informed reality.

Kathryn Price NicDhàna said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention the other important, necessary thing: the good old checks and balances... the importance of being able to knock on the door, or pick up the phone, or even just send off the email to a trusted friend, saying, "What's up with the crows? Are you getting anything from the crows or is it just me?"

Seren said...

Very good points. Finding balance is difficult, especially when it's all new and your whole perspective is changed and everything appears in a new light.

My natural interests tend towards book learning and I think for me the use of ogam feeds too much into that side of my thinking than being able to actually 'feel' what I should be seeing for myself. Like you say, as some others can, I fall too easily into an over-reliance on it.

I'm surrounded by corvids where I live - we have huge flocks of all kinds of them and because I feed them a lot they tend to hang around anyway, in spite of my efforts to attract the smaller birds. It's definitely the unusual I look for (like my encounter with a hoodie crow last year), though I'm guilty of reading too much into things, or even underappreciating things. I've had the occasional real *duh* moment when I've just totally missed the point of what I'd been seeing.

Gorm Sionnach said...

It's "funny", because I have had a very similar experience upon the morning of Là Fèile Bride, I awoke and my house was absolutely freezing. Living in Toronto it tends to be absolutely frigid during the month of February and I also noticed that my usually dank basement appartment was rather bright. Upon further inspection, my front door was wide open, and as we did not have a screen/glass door, the winter air had invited itself in over the course of the night. I had, as I normally do every night, locked the door. I suppose if it had have been any other morning I would have been more concerned.

Seren said...

I was on my own when it happened to me, the dog had spent the whole night barking at something and when I came down to find the door open my first thought was that we'd been burgled and the dog had been trying to alert me. Obviously not, but it did turn out he'd taken the opportunity to go outside and keep most of the neighbourhood up al night as well. There was a lot of apologising to be done after that. Sod.