Tag Archives: mental health

Breakthroughs

I am feeling delightfully happy. I finally told my partner about aspects of my faith – about Brigid and the Cailleach, about winter and summer, and how it helps my Seasonal Affective Disorder. I compared this past winter with the one before, compared my coping levels and my happiness. And my scientific, faith-skeptic partner said he was happy for me – whatever I need to help me.

And I think the Cthulu jokes might die down a little.

I can be happier and more open with my beliefs in my own home, alongside respect and love for my partner, and that is really wonderful. Love for my deities, love for my partner, happiness for myself.

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F is for Festivals

I like a good celebration. I like watching the world spin, and marking time in a positive fashion. As previously mentioned, it helps me with my seasonal affective disorder. There are many pagan celebrations you can follow, usually tied to an equinox or solstice which are themselves determined by the length of day in relation to the length of night. Equal day and night? Equinox. Day or night at its longest and the other its shortest? Solstice.

For a sun-fan like myself, it marks the amount of light I will receive. Yule, or the Winter Solstice on December 21st 2012 marked the least amount of light, and today – Ostara/Eostre, or the Spring Equinox, marks the start of the days when it’s daytime more than it’s night-time. The pinnacle will be in June, at the Summer solstice on June 21st, where there will be an abundance of light and it will barely be night at all.

This knowledge is so, so comforting. It places me within the seasons; it gives me a base with which to understand my place in the world and what’s happening to my surroundings. There’s no ambiguous ‘is it spring yet?’ or worrying because I haven’t seen many crocuses or wondering what the weather will be like. This helps me feel connected with nature. I know that today is the Spring equinox, and I can call it Ostara. I know that my friend in Australia is experiencing the Autumn equinox, and that knowledge makes me feel connected to her.

Festivals help me celebrate this knowledge, they give me an anchor in the world. When you have depression, and perhaps when you don’t (I don’t really remember life before depression), days can seem quite bleak and monotonous. I have evidence built into my faith and my religion as to why This Is Not True, and that helps. That really helps. I know where the sun will be, and I know there will be more daylight tomorrow than there was today. This really, truly helps.

“So what have you been doing for pagan festivals, Hare?”

Glad you asked! 🙂

Today I cleared all the leaves off my altar and made it look neat again. I sat with my acrylics and painted two pieces: a bit for Ostara (pastel colours, egg shapes, all that!), and an all-blue piece for the Cailleach. While her time of the year might be over, it felt important to celebrate her today as well. So far this year I’ve painted something for each of the festivals with my acrylics. It would be nice if I could do something for all of them, especially to look over at the year’s end. I suspect it would make it a lot easier to paint my own wheel of the year if I had painted each section at the appropriate time.

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D is for Decisions

I had to make a decision this week between two jobs. (I am incredibly fortunate to be in such a position! Unfortunately, I have anxiety problems so I struggle with these situations.) I asked my parents; I asked my friends; I asked my partner; I even asked someone offering free tarot readings (when I struggle I tend to flip a coin, and then check my feelings; I was hoping for a similar outcome).

I was no clearer. I gently asked Brigid and the Cailleach for advice. They both shook their heads and told me it was my decision to make.

It’s as if the Gods do not work like magic eight balls. *wry*

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C is for Cailleach and Crones

Some tales portray [the Cailleach] as a benevolent and primal giantess from the dawn of time who shaped the land and controlled the forces of nature, others as the harsh spirit of winter

Rankine and d’Este (2008)

The Cailleach (pronunciation almost as variable as that of Brigid; I have settled on CAL-y-ACH with the ‘ch’ like ‘loch’) is described as “the goddess of the harsh winter months” (Rankine and d’Este 2008), known for her giant size and for dropping rocks to shape the landscape. The name Cailleach has several meanings, including old woman, hag, crone, nun and veiled one (R&E 2008). She is most associated with shaping the landscape, her giant size, her vast age, associations with water, guardianship of specific animals (deer, cows), and her ability to shapeshift (R&E 2008).

UPG

She is of the wild, of the cold harsh days of the year, of icy water, elemental stuff. I strongly associate her with winter, and with power over the weather and the earth.

I felt myself calling out to her over winter, as my seasonal affective disorder threatened to drag me into [more] depressive places, and as I struggled with the lack of light. I turned to a being of great expanse and great age, who represents the thing I fear the most – the lack of sunlight. And I found warmth, and wisdom, and another, different kind of beauty in the winter months. I found things to admire and to love, not simply to fear.

Part of depression (for me) is acceptance. I learn to accept the bleakness as part of life, rather than struggling against it, and it makes it easier for the warmer times to come back round. If I have patience the spring and summer will return, and I needn’t spend all winter fighting against the unchangeable. (I reiterate: this is something that I personally have found helpful; I am not for a second suggesting that if other people with depression ‘do what I do’ then they’ll get better. It’s simply something that works for me some/most of the time.)

I haven’t been through a year with my newly-found pagan beliefs yet (I am most definitely a tiny!Pagan), so I think any relationship between the Cailleach and Brigid will become clearer as the wheel turns. I’ll keep revisiting old posts throughout the year, and if my beliefs significantly alter I will post an update.

Archetypes

I sometimes wonder about age and deities. I have been a child, and an adult, but not yet an old woman, so I haven’t had to think about how age is represented (because I’ve occupied the favoured ages). I do notice that it tends to be female deities who are categories into “maiden, mother and crone”, which makes me uncomfortable for many reasons, but briefly:

  1. The definition of my existence is not related to whether I’ve mushed genitals with another human being.
  2. Not all women have vaginas; not all people-with-vaginas are women. Most people I know live outside of that conceptual framework, so maiden-mother-crone are irrelevant categories.
  3. It insinuates that women’s purpose and function is entirely and completely relational to her reproductive abilities. Just… ew.

I do not think that way of women, and I am not about to start regarding deities by those standards. I mean, can you imagine?

“Ok, Cailleach, so you’re a several-thousand year old shapeshifting land deity of winter. Whatever. Now! Can we talk about the shape and function of your genitals?”

At this point, I image the Cailleach would drop a mountain on the speaker’s head. 😉

Source:

Rankine, David and Sorita d’Este (2008) Visions of the Cailleach – Exploring the Myths, Folklore and Legends of the Pre-eminent Hag Goddess Avalonia Books: London

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B is for Broom Closet

It takes me a while to realise things that may have been obvious to others.

So, for instance, when I was in primary school and couldn’t stop staring at a girl in my class – I didn’t know quite what to make of those feelings. And when I was a teenager, and there was that girl with the name of a flower, whose very presence made me giddy, and I still called myself straight. And then when I was seventeen, I was walking up some stairs and idly glancing at the bottom of the woman in front of me and I realised I might not just fancy men.

I thought to myself, “Ohhh, that’s why I fancy women – I’m bisexual!” (A few weeks later amended to pansexual, and a few years later to queer.) I finally realised that my feelings had a name, had a place, had a community, etc. But it took me a while to get there.

Faith

I was brought up atheist, by former Christians. I was – probably unintentionally – made to believe that those with faith were at best ‘silly’, and at worst ‘delusional’. So, in 2009, when faith metaphorically smacked me round the head and went “HI THERE” I didn’t quite know what to do with it. I didn’t know what my beliefs were; I didn’t know how to feel; I was quite worried it was a side-effect of the medication I’d just started. I looked to the nearest thing I could find, which was the church in the village. I spent good few months with churches, with bibles, in groups, and finally in Friends Meetings. Collective, silent thinking was good, was helpful in some ways, but my social anxiety had the better of me. (And I had a Meeting where Some Dude was staring at me, and I had to leave because it made me so uncomfortable.)

I could best connect with my faith when outside, when in nature, and I couldn’t quite get the hang of monotheism. I sat in a church and felt nothing, but in the graveyard, among the trees, with the sun on my skin, listening to the birds? Oh, I could feel it there.

(But still, I failed to connect the dots!)

It took another good few months, reading verses from different religious texts and not connecting with it. I think I was still searching, and I stumbled on the wikipedia page on animism and realised that this was actually a thing I believed! It was something that I thought was so self-evidently true I didn’t realise it had a name. It was something I realised that I had always believed. And look, the animism page connects to a whole hub about paganism…

Somewhere in those weeks it clicked. I first called myself an animist (still am!), then gradually called myself a pagan, and I happily realised I am also a witch. I had discovered the broom closet, and found myself far inside! I haven’t told my family, not in so many ‘pagan animist witch’ words, but gently hinted that I simply love nature and animals. I have told my partner of three years, not least because he will notice when you set up an altar in your bedroom. (He asked if it was to summon Cthulu. Cheeky sod.) I’ve told online friends and discovered a few pagans and heathens, which has been both reassuring and joyful. Celebrate all the deities!

About a month ago one of my partner’s siblings asked me whether I was religious, and I paused in terror – the immediate fear of “Arg don’t tell people you’re religious! They’ll think you’re delusional!” ingrained by my atheist upbringing – and then explained I was. I said so with stumbling, self-effacing humour and deflecting behaviour, but I said it. I told someone. They didn’t cast me away! They just went, “Oh right” and then went about their life. (In my defence, I also have an anxiety disorder; I do tend to panic about things that do not seem scary to people without anxiety disorders.)

It doesn’t have to be anyone else’s business, but if someone asks I can tell them the truth. I am a pagan.

My name is Hare, and I’m a Pagan.

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B is for Brigid

Variously known as: Brigid, Brighid, Brigit, Bride…

Goddess of healers, poets, smiths, childbirth and inspiration, fire and hearth. Goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry, useful and inspired wisdom. Goddess of the land and the wheel, sun and moon; green cloak spread across the land.

“Brighid’s fire is the fire at the heart of creation.”

Brighid.org.uk

About

Brigid is a goddess, described as a goddess of healers, poets, smiths, childbirth, inspiration, fire, hearth, wisdom, the land, the wheel, the sun, the moon (brighid.org.uk); triple fire goddess (orderwhitemoon.org); ‘a feminine concept of the divine in the broadest sense’, energy of light and fire, of love and healing, of artistic inspiration and of peace and justice (C.S. Thompson); is represented by awen /|\, created Ogham (Anna Franklin). Brigid is also associated with many animals: cow, ewe, snake, wolf, swan, lark, linnet and oyster catcher. (Brighid.org.uk)

I haven’t seen Franklin’s assertion that Brigid created Ogham shared by any other pagans [EDIT: but there are others who associate her with Ogham]. I also haven’t seen the link between Brigid and the moon repeated very often, as she is mostly associated with the sun (because of her existing link with fire). However, both are included here to give an idea of the breadth of inspiration and symbols associated with Brigid.

The name of the goddess is frequently mixed with that of an Irish Saint, Brigid of Kildare (link, link), who was a keeper of the flame, associated with a cross made of rushes and with a mantle or cloak. It is sometimes stated that goddess Brigid is not a triple goddess, but three sisters all named Brigid, all of whom are goddesses with different specialisations.

Celebration

Brigid is best known as a goddess of the fire and hearth. I live in modern house so I don’t have a hearth, and I am not allowed to have fires because I am clumsy dyspraxic and nearly set myself on fire once. There’s a burn in the carpet to attest to this incident, and my partner gently (but firmly) took my lighter away. So how does one venerate a fire goddess when not allowed to replicate her element?

Brigid is the goddess of creativity, of inspiration, of poets and wisdom. When I feel inspired and creative (like now, when writing words in her honour!) I am venerating Brigid. When I paint, draw, write, knit, sing, play instruments – I am inspired by Brigid.

I painted a truly terrible piece for her earlier this week, complete with flame imagery (that looked more like a vulva Sauron), a swan (that looked like a sausage with a wine gum stuck to its face; apparently I cannot draw beaks), and some splodgy triangle thing that was supposed to be a large cloak. It had all the skill of a – well, very unskilled person – and could not in any respect be considered an adequate gift for Brigid. I’d hoped it could go on my altar, but it would have looked preposterous. However! I like to think that it was the effort that counted. She is the inspiration, not the arbiter of style. 😉 After drawing it I went outside, and saw four white Bewick swans flying overhead. I will take that as a sign.

Brigid and the Cailleach

In some stories, Brigid – in her association with the sun, perhaps – rules over the lighter six months of the year, while the Cailleach rules the darker months. Sometimes they are two faces of the same goddess; sometimes Brigid is imprisoned by the Cailleach; sometimes it is a battle, and other times more of a graceful dance between two different deities. I like to think of the wheel of the year as a peaceful, gradual event, not fighting and battles. That’s because I’m a fluffy bunny, or at least a fluffy hare.

I like this metaphor because it reminds me of my depression. When I treated it as a battle, it did me no good. I couldn’t fight against something that was as powerful as me; it fed off the power I gave it. You cannot force summer to appear in the midst of winter, no matter how hard you wish. All you can do is accept. I accepted its existence and stopped fighting, which meant it got a lot easier. So, as metaphors go, this is one I have made for myself – the summer and winter – both with positives and negatives, fitting around each other. Neither can ever triumph, and nor would we want them to: they exist with each other.

I also have seasonal affective disorder, so in the depths of winter it is very encouraging to have a strong part of my own faith given to a deity of fire and light. I’m also learning to appreciate the winter, the Cailleach, though that’s for another blog post.

Personal Experience

I was out walking and called to her, and felt a presence walking beside me –  a woman of light. (Oh, my goodness. Four years ago, in the summer, I was feeling very low and I was comforted by a figure made of light – that was where my faith all began. I wonder if that was Brigid, too.) The figure from a week ago was gentle, bright, bare-footed, and had her hair covered, at least at the top. I think the rest fell down her back, loose. It was a really comforting, warming experience.

I have felt the urge to cover my hair since around the time of my first faith-based experience back in 2009, but – again! – that’s probably for another blog post. It might turn out to be linked to Brigid, or maybe the Cailleach: ‘veiled one’.

Oddly enough, as well as the call to cover my hair, I’ve also been really strongly prodded to take better care of my hair, specifically by brushing it every night. (I have curls, so I was a once-a-week brusher before.) And you know what? It’s looking and feeling great, and it’s easier to manage, and the act of brushing it making my life easier. It’s really nice to do this thing specifically for her. I think she’s reminding me to take better care of myself.

I think Brigid meshes with me so well because I strongly associate with all her symbols, especially “the fire at the heart of creation.” She is fire, passion and inspiration, but not just the more creative, introspective arts. She’s also active: she’s smithing and healing, getting out and looking after people. As a care worker, that’s precisely what I do: actively getting out there and trying to make people’s lives a little easier and better. She’s also associated with childbirth, fertility, and the fire at the heart of the home. My home is where my partner is, and has been ever since we’ve been together. We plan to try for a child within three years, so fertility and homes play quite heavily on my mind at the moment. I look forward to working with Brigid as I move into this new sector of my life.

Imbolc

The coming of spring, the Imbolc festival on February 1st, is Brigid’s festival. She is associated with plants that bloom at this time of the year (snowdrops, crocuses), and animals that emerge from hibernation at this time (snakes, hedgehogs) and cattle (maybe because of the lambing season). As I no longer live in a city, I’m better placed to observe nature first hand, to go on walks in the countryside, and – hopefully – to see wildlife.

It’ll be Imbolc soon – my first since following Brigid – and I’m really looking forward to it. February is a month of grief and loss for me and my family, so to have something positive and joyful in amongst the sorrow will be really wonderful.

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