Friday, 7 November 2008

Archive: Nitpicking, CR-style

(Or maybe it's just me).

There have been a few interesting discussions going on in some of the Celtic lists I lurk on, recently, in the last few weeks. Combined with Erynn's thoughtful post the other day week (*ahem* yes, it's taken that long to write this...), I've been doing a lot of pondering recently - on the gods and their place in my life, and in the landscape that I'm feeling such a part of now. I've been pondering about it on and off for a good six months or so, but finally (and with a bit of prodding) I think I'm finding the words to get it all out in the open so I can see it, look at it and look back on it. So I can put it all into words and see just what's been knocking at my head for so long. Which has all taken over a week or so, so if I make no sense from hereon in, it's because I got to the point where I just couldn't pick at the damn thing anymore...

I want to say what I mean clearly, but at the same time seeing as it's so personal, I know what I mean but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm conveying that meaning effectively to those of you reading this. With those excuses in mind...

Over the past few years I've been feeling increasingly drawn to the goddess Badb. It's taken a long time (or so it seems to me - and for reasons I'll go into shortly) but we seem to have found a comfortable rhythm to our interactions now. I leave her offerings and talk to her; I look for signs that she might send and interpret them accordingly (not just crow-related signs, but they figure largely in my relationship, even though hoodie crows specifically aren't all that common round here; I find meaning in corvids in general, for a variety of reasons). I don't hear her, loud and crystal clear in my head, but I feel that she's there listening. I don't see her clear as day in front of me, but I See her, an image in my head, dark and almost intangible, a vision I've drawn on paper many times since I was a child.

It's a very quiet thing, an internal, personal experience for the most part. There are no bells or whistles as such, no fireworks and great revelations. It just is, and at times it can be incredibly profound. Now I've accepted it, I find it a comfort. I don't see her as being a maternal figure for me (and don't feel the need for one), so I don't see that she looks after me in that sense, but I find comfort in the rightness of it; the truth in it all.

Her presence these days is almost imperceptible, except for a quiet tapping at the back of my head; a knock or a nudge every time I look outside each morning to see what the day brings. Some days it's more obvious than others (like this morning with the magpie hopping around my kitchen door and making a huge racket), but it's always there. I see her as an ancestor of sorts, because she's most commonly connected with the part of Ireland that my nan's family comes from, and of all the surviving members of my family that I know best, she's the one I feel closest to, and respect the most deeply. I see truth in it, in evolving this relationship with Badb, and find a sense of wholeness to my spiritual practices that I never felt before. It makes me feel good, but confused at the same time, in a way.

I honour the gods of the Gaels in my daily practices, as well as the probable Brythonic deities of this area, and I sometimes honour specific ones other than Badb - the gods of this place (in specific, Clota, or is it *Clota? The goddess of the river, who was probably venerated by the Britons who lived here. And in a wider sense, Bride and the Cailleach in my seasonal celebrations especially) and also the gods of the people who came here from Ireland. But of them all, I seem to have the most personal relationship with Badb. I've yet to feel the need to make any sort of formal, ritualised dedication to her, but maybe I will some day, who knows. In honouring her and listening to her, I see that as making enough of an obligation to her for now, and as I explore what she means to me, and how she fits into my spiritual practices and beliefs, I'm seeing a lot of similarities between her and the Cailleach Bheur.

As far as Badb in particular is concerned, it's something that's taken a very long time to accept, for me, because she's not exactly an obvious goddess to find yourself developing a relationship with when you're so drawn to expressing your spirituality in terms of Scottish cultural practices like I am. I feel an intense connection with this land and I see the gods as being very localised at their core so it feels odd to be so drawn to a deity that has such a tenuous connection, at best (in an overt, direct sense as far as I know), with this place. The gods of this place that I honour are very real to me, but yet I don't feel the same sort of relationship with them. I tried that by joining a flamekeeping order dedicated to Bride, once, and while I feel it was right for me at the time, I wasn't - ultimately - meant for her.

There are these deities like Bride, the Cailleach or even Manannán that are more directly associated with Scotland than Badb, as far as I'm aware. In pondering and pursuing all this I feel like I've gained a greater undertanding of Bride and the Cailleach on a more personal level, but not in the same way as I identify with Badb. In order to reconcile all of this with myself, I've been thinking, doubting myself, pondering and coming to the same conclusion over and over again that it is what it is and it's really not going to go away. No, no, it can't be...Oh but it is, and get over yourself...

But that doesn't mean that deities like Badb can have no associations, or potential associations, with Scotland. Which makes me think that I'm interpreting all this on a fairly literal level, really, and makes me think I'm quibbling about details to a painful extent...Which isn't surprising, given my personality, but still it's something that troubles me at times. On the one hand I balk at the idea that Gaelic=essentially the same no matter which country, because I'm the sort to focus on the nuances and details. As far as modern politics goes, there are vast differences (as well as similarities) between Ireland and northern Ireland, let alone adding Scotland into the mix, but all of them are often lumped under the Gaelic umbrella. And yet I find the historical and cultural similarities and crossovers, as well as the differences, incredibly informative. Inevitably, and perhaps especially because I live in one of those melting pots of Brythonic and Gaelic practice, along with everything else, things all mix into one at times.

Pondering all this, Erynn made a timely post on how she sees her relationship with the gods, in which she quoted Whitman:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Looking at the quote itself, I can certainly identify with this on a personal level, and it made me think that yes, the gods may have been very localised as I see them most commonly, but they've also become very widespread, as I also see them; I may be focusing on a particular culture in my practices, but I also can't avoid the wider connections between Scotland and Ireland, and the many crossovers between them throughout time. I'm keeping it in the family at least, and even if I can only say my perceptions are a modern evolution of what might have been, I'm calling it as I see it.

As my practices have evolved I seem to have unconsciously been accommodating this apparent contradiction, to my mind, by honouring the gods of this place that I live on, on a localised as well as a more national level (i.e. the Brythonic Clota of here, Strathclyde, alongside Cailleach Bheur and Bride), along with the gods that are commonly associated with the 'Gaelic legacy' of Scotland's association with Ireland as a whole, over the years, centuries and even millenia. It all melts into one, and the labels of 'Scottish Reconstructionist' and 'Gaelic Polytheist' meld together.

This doesn't bother me as far as my personal practices are concerned; I do what I do and I've done what I've done, and regardless of the labels I've assigned to those practices, I've found incredible depth and meaning in them. But I like to get the labels right...