Saturday, 25 February 2012

A general guide to getting started

So you've read the CR FAQ and the brand spanking new Gaol Naofa FAQ along with a few other bits and pieces (oh, I dunno, like my site? How about the rest of Gaol Naofa, too? All good places to look, if I do say so myself...). You think you've got the basics down, and you think this is the right kind of path for you. You want to start doing stuff, but...where do you start?

I thought perhaps putting out a few thoughts together on this might come in handy for the beginner (although I can only claim the following to be my opinion); things are better than when I was starting out, but I think it can all still be a little bewildering for those who are still trying figure things out. Getting into the swing of Gaelic Polytheist practice can be a bit of a jarring experience at first, because part of the process involves getting used to an entirely different take on day-to-day life. So the first bit of advice I'd give is: Go at your own pace. Do what you're comfortable with, and build on it as quickly or as slowly as you feel works for you.

The second bit of advice I'd give is: Step away from the Llewellyn-type books. Any neopagan books, really. Seriously. Modern pagan books on 'Celtic' paganisms may offer some ideas and easy answers, but they are all terrible as far as research is concerned - even the ones that are better than most. They are almost always aimed at a Wiccan or wiccanesque audience, which is not a bad thing if you're Wiccan or wiccanesque in belief and practice, but Celtic Reconstructionism doesn't come under that particular umbrella. In many respects, CR's outlook, approaches and beliefs are diametrically opposed to those of Wicca or Wiccan-derived paths. Ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, what you find in them has nothing to do with what you're now trying to put into practice, so it's kinda like looking to Catholicism in order to learn about being Mormon...Or whatever analogy fits best there...

The best place to start is with daily practices. Gaol Naofa has a good article on this, with some practical ideas, and I've given a few rambling ideas too, including a bit of rambling about the kind of sources you can look at to make your own prayers. It's good to get into the habit of making daily devotions because these can help you keep centred and connected. Prayers can be said anywhere - in the morning, over a coffee before you leave for work or school, before bed, during your morning run, or while you lie in bed mustering the will to get up and start the day. Even as you make your breakfast, lunch or dinner, clean the house; there are all kinds of different rites you can incorporate into your day. This article on Prayer in Gaelic Polytheism over at Gaol Naofa is especially helpful on the finer points of how and why we pray as Gaelic Polytheists, and it's well worth a read.

It can help to have your own space set aside for devotions. This can be a space for a candle, as well as a dish or plate for offerings and some items that represent the gods, spirits and ancestors, the three realms, and the place around you; things that articulate your beliefs and worldview, making a sort of microcosm, as it were. I have a shelf in my kitchen, which I see as a kind of central hearth for the home; the spiritual centre, if you will. I tend to make my offerings outside so rarely leave them on my shelf (or else I put them outside immediately after finishing ritual), but I focus a lot of my indoor devotions and rites there.

In addition to daily prayers, offerings (daily, weekly, or however frequently you feel is appropriate) can be a good practice to get into as well. Making offerings to the gods and ancestors is a good idea, but it's also important to build a relationship with the land spirits around you. Bioregionalism is a popular buzzword in the pagan community these days, and it's one that has a lot to offer the Celtic Reconstructionist. It's about trying to live in harmony with nature, and it's a process that begins at home; in doing so, it's a good way to start building a relationship with the nature spirits - even if you live in a very built up area.

You can honour the local spirits by making offerings to them, but you can also honour them in other ways, too, if these are possible: For example, buy local produce; look after your garden and try planting species that are native to your area, including ones that are attractive to bees, butterflies and all kinds of insects (or if you don't have a garden, try a window-planter, put out bird boxes and bug hotels, bird feeders and the like); grow your own fruit and vegetables - it's a good way to keep in touch with the seasonal cycles; feed the birds (a lot of folks incorporate these into their offerings, since a lot of different kinds of birds are commonly seen as Otherworldly agents); pick up rubbish as you find it in your area; and/or make an outdoor shrine for offerings and devotions. The general idea is to build a positive relationship with the land, and making offerings to the spirits, tending to the land and looking after it are all good ways of going about it. It's not always possible to do everything, for whatever reason, but you can do something.

Once you've got used to doing your daily observances, then it becomes easier to get on with adding a few more in. Ritual and prayer doesn't have to be lengthy and elaborate, and Gaelic Polytheism allows for the individual and individual groups to formulate their own liturgy so to a certain extent it can be built around your own needs. This is partly why there isn't an awful lot of liturgy out there, because a lot of folks prefer to find their own understanding and articulation of practice, and other people's words aren't necessarily helpful to your own circumstances. Having said that, it's probably fair to say that it's also partly to do with the fact that liturgy is a deeply personal element of practice and not everyone is comfortable with sharing such personal and meaningful material with strangers; that's a common view in the traditional cultures as well. So in spite of the fact that there may not be much out there, that's not to say that liturgy isn't important. It's just personal. There's nothing wrong with sharing liturgy, if you so wish, but there's no obligation to (there are some examples given in the Prayer in Gaelic Polytheism article if you want to take a look, though).

However you come to find your own words for prayer and ritual, looking to traditional sources is the best starting point. Since we are about tradition, that means we are focused on the kind of rituals and prayers that can be said again and again; repetition is important. Tradition is what gives us roots; it steadies us and gives us a solid foundation. By looking to traditional sources, by rooting our own practices in them, we might see ourselves walking in the footsteps of those who went before us; that is what tradition is about.