Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Renewed Focus, or An Ode to Nature

My life has changed a lot since I last posted regularly. In the summer of 2016 my husband and I decided to leave our lifelong home of southern California for an adventure on the east coast, and moved to NYC. After our second winter I think it's safe to say we have left the honeymoon phase, but we still love it here.

Everything is different of course; the culture, the people, the drivers, but the biggest change by far is living in a totally new bioregion. In California I had a deep knowledge and understanding of the plants and animals, I felt at home there and all was familiar. The challenge has been learning about this completely different land we live on, the plants we live with, and how the seasons affect our lives much more profoundly than they did before. There's cold, and rain, and snow! All new to me. When people talk about the weather it's not just small talk - it's interesting, and sometimes a good warning. I learned from my neighbors what to expect during our first big storm, and shoveling snow is a surprisingly pleasant community experience.

Maple Leaves 

I have to say, walking through the woods surrounded by trees that I didn't recognize was an off-putting experience! I've hardly learned all of them, but my IDing abilities is improving. In spring there is a beautiful tree called an American Linden that has tiny, creamy flowers that give off such a strong fragrance, the entire park is full of it. In autumn my favorites are the maple trees (ok, this one I recognized, who can miss such a distinctive leaf?) - they are so vibrant and varied, from deep crimson, to flame yellow, to tangerine, and so bright they almost seem to glow. There really is nothing so lovely as New England in the autumn.

My favorite tree of all is the Oak. They are my dearest and oldest friends, and I was pleased to find them in abundance here. They are not quite the same as the California Live Oak - an evergreen beauty with twisted arms and personality - they are taller, stately, upright, changeable. Our upstairs apartment looks down into a small yard with one tall Pin Oak, giving us leafy green coverage in the summer, and bare branches in the winter. It's a veritable squirrel buffet, and I've spent altogether too much time watching the squirrels (speaking of squirrels - black squirrels are a thing! I've never seen a black squirrel in my life before we moved here). We also get visits from all manner of birds - most of them new to my west-coast eyes.  In summer time we also get the sounds of cicadas, a loud hum that rises and falls and has the power to lure one to sleep if one happens to be lying under the right type of tree on the right type of blanket at the park. My favorite new thing of all though, is fireflies! It was always a dream of mine to finally see fireflies in real life, and they do not disappoint! Dusk falls and they are sparkling in the fields, the hedges, just asking to be chased and admired.

Snowdrops in Central Park
I feel that in many ways living here has brought me a new understanding and appreciation for the Gaelic calendar, and holidays; winter really does begin at Samhainn, and the promise of coming spring at Là Fhèill Brìghde has a much deeper meaning when one actually lives in snow! I bring my son out for seasonal activities, and this year when went to pick blackberries at Lùnastal and a thunderstorm rolled in, I thought that was very fitting. (We do not usually get thunderstorms in LA). I certainly miss California, my family and friends, and the familiarity of it, but this Gaelic Polytheist is very happy and content on a new coast. I was so worried before we left that I wouldn't be able to find much nature at all in the city, and how wrong I was. It's everywhere. It overtakes the city.

Apple Picking
Linden Flowers
Snowy Night
The biggest clover flower! Lots of rain = Giant Plants. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Samhainn Thoughts

The season of Samhainn is upon us. I set up my ancestors altar a few days ago; we used to have a permanent place for it, but since we moved space has become an issue and at the moment it's temporary. Just this morning I set up the beach stones I had collected after I lost my baby. I have not written about it here (because I haven't written anything!), but just over 2 years ago I was pregnant. We were all excited, my son had just turned 4 and he was happily anticipating finally being a brother. I went in for my 15 week appointment and found out the baby had died. It was devastating for everyone, and then I had to carry the baby for another full week before I had a D&C. This all started a chain of events that would change our lives forever.

Grief is a funny thing. It lays dormant, allowing you to go through the days feeling happy, not thinking constantly of the losses we all endure, and then one day it decides to surface, totally blindsiding you.

She kneels by the small pile of stones, the cairn that is the only earthly remnant of the baby she never got to hold. She touches the base stone and it is cold against her fingers. Two years and more have gone by, but she still remembers the child. The thought of the child, the hope of the child - their daughter that was never born. She is overtaken by grief; a grief she seldom lets through. 
"Why, why ... why did this happen?" she calls out. She calls to Brighid. She wants the answer to an unanswerable question. "What did I do to deserve this? What did we do?!" She thinks of her son, already a brother because he has a love for a sister he never met. A brother who misses her daily. How could that innocent child deserve such grief? She thinks of her husband and the trials he qent through after the baby died, the trials they all suffered, the things she endured because to do anything else would have meant death and defeat. The trials that saved her from the immediate pain of losing her daughter, merely distracting her with a new and more urgent type of pain. "Why did this happen at all?" 
She is confused, she is angry, she is wondering if her Gods have abandoned her. Her bitterest tears salt the earth ... then she feels a presence, Her presence, Brighid. She feels the warm comfort of being wrapped in a mother's embrace. She feels rather than hears these words: 
"Child you have done nothing wrong. You do not earn your pain, and pain comes to every living person. I can not control it, nor can I take it away. I too have felt the pain of loos, and the loss of a child, and it is deep and it lingers. But I have come to hold you through the grief. I am the voice that led you to your husband when he was in danger. I lend you strength when you feel you have no more to give. I can not shield you from every hurt, but I am witness to it and I help you to move on." 
She has cried all her tears for now. She feels warm and comforted, and no longer alone.

Edit, 10-17-16: I realized after I posted this that Oct. 15th is Infant & Pregnancy Loss Awareness Day - check out for more info.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick's Day Link Roundup!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh! Happy St. Patrick's Day! I see this day as a wonderful time to celebrate Irish heritage and culture (though I am a Scottish leaning Gaelic Polytheist, I, like many, have both Scottish and Irish ancestry). This is also a day full of misconceptions, particularly in Pagan circles; like how Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland and OMGz SNAKES R PAGANS - yeah, that didn't happen. It's also a day full of harmful stereotypes of Drunken Irish Pride, dyeing perfectly edible foods a nasty green color, and leprechauns. Sigh.

Here I offer you a modest collection of things to read, to counteract the nonsense of the day!

Tairis: St. Patrick's Day, with much Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth.

Pagans, Polytheists, and St. Patrick's Day

Gaol Naofa's YouTube Playlist: St. Patrick's Day / Lá Fhéile Pádraig / Sheela's Day

Story Archaeology Podcast: A Crock of old Cobblers
"Fergus mac Léite gets to encounter the underwater world of the Lupracán, a story which in the late middle / early modern Irish version, almost certainly, inspired Swift’s wonderful satire, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. The Story Archaeologists, ear herbs at the ready, dive right into the tale, but wonder how these small, but proud and fiercely independent, beings have devolved, over the centuries into the scary Leprechaun travesties that are dragged out every Paddy’s day?"

and lastly, a recipe, for your feasting pleasure! Irish Potato Cakes - Boxty

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Exciting Announcement!

I'm very pleased to announce that I have been asked to join An Comhairle Ghaol Naofa - The Gaol Naofa Council - as a Brughaidh ("hospitaller"). There are also updates to the Membership Guidelines as well as a new video about A' Ghealach Ùr - The New Moon, so be sure to check it out. See the official update here!

I'm also relieved that the stolen statue of Mannanán mac Lir has been found, exactly one month after it was stolen.

I think all of our singing must have helped.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Getting Ready for Imbolc - Wooly Sheep Tutorial

Well, here I am again, in my sadly neglected blog. I had a heck of a year, let us leave it at that. The good news - I've graduated, I officially have my Masters Degree (in Traditional Chinese Medicine) and soon I'll be a licensed acupuncturist. Hooray!

Since most of my hard work is done, I have more time for myself and, hopefully, that will translate into more writing.

On to the fun stuff!

Imbolc is coming, spring is beginning to stir in the Northern Hemisphere, and my son and I are starting to make preparations in anticipation of Brighid's visit. O is four now, and is very excited to celebrate Brighid's special day.  (We say a nightly prayer for protection, and he knows that Brighid watches over our home and helps keep him safe) I'm really making an effort to establish traditions in our home that reflect my personal practice. My husband is Jewish so we celebrate Jewish holidays; we celebrate the secular aspects of some other holidays too, like Christmas. I spend a lot of time decorating and preparing for those, so I want to make the effort in a more visible way for the Gaelic festivals as well. Decorating is part of that!

I was on Pinterest and I saw an adorable photo of porcelain sheep ornaments, but it was (as often happens on Pinterest) unsourced! My first thought was "I can make that!" ... I've seen similar concepts, usually using a paper or cardboard cutout of a sheep (or cow) body, wrapped with yarn. Simple!

I'm sure many different modeling clays or doughs would work - I considered salt dough at first (because it's cheap and if you screw up you haven't spent a lot of money), but then I found some old Sculpey in a forgotten craft box. I used 1 2oz package and got about 7 sheep out of it.

First, I drew my sheep body. I freehanded it, but there are a lot of sheep silhouettes on Google, or just print out mine (I don't mind).

imbolc sheep tutorial gaol naofa

Roll out the dough to a quarter inch thickness.

imbolc sheep tutorial gaol naofa

I used a toothpick to trace the outline of my sheep ...

imbolc sheep tutorial gaol naofa

imbolc sheep tutorial gaol naofa

... then used a craft knife to cut it out.

imbolc sheep tutorial gaol naofa

At this point I discovered it's best to roll your clay out on parchment, because once you cut the sheep and try to peel it off the table it gets kind of warped. I used my fingers to soften the cut edges, tweak any part that didn't look right, and smooth out the clay. Toothpicks make nice mini-rollers to smooth away fingerprints!

I poked a hole in each one for a string, then baked them according to package directions. They came out wonderfully! Here they all are, ready for the oven.

imbolc sheep tutorial gaol naofa

Now, once the sheep are baked and cooled, take your yarn and wrap it all around the sheep until maximum woolliness has been achieved. Tuck (or glue) the loose end of the yarn. (I had no issues wrapping around the tail, but a well-placed dab of glue could be used if your yarn is slipping off) Roving would also work for this step, but I just used a wooly yarn.

imbolc sheep tutorial gaol naofa

I used a large needle and embroidery floss to make the hanging loop.

imbolc sheep tutorial gaol naofa


imbolc sheep tutorial gaol naofa

They're pretty darn cute, and definitely bring some springtime cheer! I'm going to finish the rest with my son tomorrow.

imbolc sheep tutorial gaol naofa

Friday, September 6, 2013

Today I had some time to myself and felt like messing around with Photoshop - this is the result:

gaol naofa
The quote is from the Triads of Ireland, the photo is my own. 

This summer was very busy - one of my busiest trimesters at school, and stressful without having super-reliable childcare. I am happy to say that the childcare issue has been resolved and I feel much more at ease about the time I'm spending away from home. This week I started my last trimester of school - it is very surreal. It's been six very long, intense years but I'm glad I've made it to the (almost) end. I won't have as much time for writing as I'd like until the end of the year, since I've got to study for my graduation exam (cumulative!!) and then the various licensing boards, however I have resolved to be a little bit more frequent than I have as of late. Soon I'll be putting up a post about our trips to the sea and Manannan, and some of the fun autumnal activities my son and I have been doing.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Beach day!

I've suddenly been very busy with school and life, I have already neglected the new blog. Bad!

A few weeks ago I had a lovely day at the beach. Living near the coast for my entire life has given me a deep love and appreciation for the sea (no pun intended), and I'm excited to share it with my son. I've also always felt drawn to the sea in a spiritual sense. When I was younger I began to talk to Poseidon - as Greek mythology was the only type I had been exposed to - and I've been talking to the ocean ever since. I spent a good deal of the beach day mulling over the sea ... I am now beginning to learn about Manannan mac Lir, the Irish sea God, and exploring the beginning of that relationship. I think my connection to the ocean and interest in Manannan are not coincidental.

Whilst lost in these deep thoughts I stumbled - quite literally - upon a unique stone.

It's looks like a liver!
gaelic folk magic - gaol naofa

I thought that this stone would be useful to me in the future for healing work. I found a few other interesting stones that day - a naturally holey stone, a basalt stone with a vein of quartz, and a pretty blue striated stone. I'm always on the lookout for interesting stones.

gaelic folk magic - gaol naofa

From what I understand (thanks to Healing Threads by Mary Beith!) in Scottish tradition stones shaped like body parts were popular for healing. Sometimes the stone would be dipped into water and rubbed on the body, or the patient would drink the treated water. There are many healing sites where votive offerings  often shaped like afflicted body parts, were left, presumably to cure the corresponding part of the living patient.

The rest of our beach day was lovely. The weather was fantastic, the tide was very low; my sister and son and I climbed around tidepools full of ocean life! There were so many starfish, hermit crabs, anemones  and we even saw a few tiny fish. 

gaelic folk magic - gaol naofa