Tag Archives: spirit

Ogham: Luis – Rowan

The Rowan Moon is 21 Jan – 17 Feb

Rowan is the tree of quickening and of divination.

Rowan is a small deciduous tree, found high up in the mountains, sometimes called “The Lady of the Mountain”. The Rowan tree, also known as “quicken” and Mountain Ash in the Welsh Marches where I live, is a well-known magical tree. Quickbeam  is the its name in the countryside, it’s called the Quicken Tree, the Quickbeam (meaning ‘living wood’) the Witch Tree. Remember Quickbeam, the Ent, in LOTR ?

Rowan flowers

A member of the Rose family, Rowan is related to Rose, Apple, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, and Cherry, and grows no higher than 30-40 feet. It can live up to two hundred years. The leaves grow in pairs and are long and slender. In May, Rowan blossoms into clusters of little creamy white flowers. The tree berries in autumn with a bright red fruit beloved by birds.

The Rowan berry is bitter, but when mixed with sugar or other sweet fruits, is excellent in pies, jelly or jam. Rowan berries are also made into juice and wine. The berries provide vitamins A and C, carotene, pectin and essential oil, and stimulate the immune system. Medicinally, Rowan berries are a laxative, and can also be used for sore throats, inflamed tonsils, hoarseness, even diarrhoea. A decoction from the bark is used as an astringent.

Rowan berries

The berries were commonly used to flavour ale in an old Welsh recipe and were used as a coffee substitute. This fruit can also be fed to wild birds, to flavour liqueurs and cordials and can be made into jam.

It’s possible the word “Rowan” comes from the Norse word rune, meaning charm or secret. The Sanskrit word runa means magician, but it may also be from the Gaelic rudha-an, meaning “the red one”. Rune staves were often cut from the rowan tree which gives a leaning towards the Norse … but most likely all three explanations are valid. Its Celtic name is “Luis”, (pronounced ‘loosh’).

Divination

Rowan is a gateway tree.

The Celtic shaman’s Silver Branch, calling Spirit, opening the gates between worlds to enable divination, is often made from rowan.

It is burnt for to invoke spirits for divination, bringing inspiration. Rowan is one of the nine sacred woods burnt in the  Beltane fire as it is the tree of dragons, guarded by dragons. Walking sticks made of rowan will guide you through the Wild Wood and the Enchanted Forest.

Rowan is one of the trees associated with the goddess Brighid, Smith/Healer/Poet. She is also the spinner and weaver of the Threads, the Wyrd of the World. Spindles and spinning wheels were traditionally made of Rowan. It’s also called the Wicken Tree and used for divining – one of Brighid’s skills through her Thread-weaving and kenning of the Wyrd.

In Scotland, Rowan trees were sometimes planted near stone circles and said to be especially powerful. The Faer hold their celebrations in stone circles guarded by Rowan trees. Rowan twigs placed above doorways and barns protect against bad luck and the tree is used for protection.

Rowan is a part of the fuel for burning the dead, symbolising death and rebirth. In Celtic lands red food is food of the dead. As a quickening tree rowan works in both directions, opens the gateway between Thisworld and Otherworld for both death and birth … death to Thisworld is birth into Otherworld and vice versa. It also opens the gateway for the shaman to journey between the worlds to bring back the kenning that their folk need.

In traditional Celtic divination ritual its round wattles, spread with bull’s hides, were used to call difficult spirits to answer, hence the Irish saying to “go on the wattles of knowledge” meaning to do your utmost to find the answer, get information. Thickets of rowan are often found in places used for oracular work, e.g. the Baltic Amber Isles.

Working with Rowan

Divination is a charismatic word, full of glamour, seductive … how many of us can truthfully put our hands up and say we’ve never been for a reading? Mostly we want difficult questions answered. Such answers mean we can shift responsibility for the outcomes from ourselves by saying we were following the reading … “only following orders” – now where have I heard that before?

Divination is often associated with clairvoyance. The word comes from the French, meaning clear vision. Many ancient Celtic wells and springs offered clearing the sight, while this can well mean clearing cataracts it likely refers to seeing across worlds, to divination, to clairvoyance. Water was fundamental to the Celtic tradition, the lifeblood of the Mother, the silver threads of life-energy that run throughout the body of the Earth carrying the knowing, kenning, of Life as well as the stuff without which we cannot live.

Rowan will help you.

In order to be clairvoyant, to divine, one must know oneself, be true and honest to and about oneself, this is not easy! Rowan can hold the gateway for you to see yourself as others see you and to know yourself as you truly are. Often these are not the same, nor should they be. All of us wear another skin – as in the bull-dreaming divination – but it is vital for each of us to know when we are wearing the bull’s skin and when our own. It is this confusion combined with the wish to look good in the eyes of others that disables clear-seeing, clairvoyance. While we are inveigled by our needs to look good nothing will appear as it truly is.

Spend time sitting with these words …

  • Clear Distinct Sharp
  • Vision Idea Revelation Concept Foresight Prediction Sight Ability to see
  • Divine Discover Guess Presume Discern Perceive
  • Thread Fibre Gist Storyline Theme Plot Idea

You’ll find working with these words, ideas, will draw out your own concepts, take your ideas out of the box. Coming out of the box is going through a gate, crossing, walking between worlds … this is the beginning of seeing clearly.

Be assured that this journey will be difficult. We are all accustomed to the sway things are and wish to assume that they will be this way always … of course, they won’t. but take rowan, and take courage, walk into the darkness to find the light.

Elen Sentier

behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …

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Darkness – Birthplace of Light

In Celtic tradition we begin our celebrations on the Eve of the feast day, in the darkness.

In my post Sun Wise I talked about the way the sun appears to go round in opposite directions depending on whether you live north or south of the equator. In either case it is the two poles, north and south, that are the places of darkness. They are the womb which births the light.

Whether or not the ancient Celts knew about the lands south of the equator, they were certainly bright enough to realise this fact about the sun. And they knew that the poles are the womb of creation in this way, the darkness before dawn.

Bosch's Hell

Christianity has made a devil of the darkness and many people are afraid of the dark, partly as a result of the innate myths perpetrated by this religion. The peopled it with nasty beings, all out to do you down, all the critters in Hieronymus Bosch paintings. This is not how it is at all, as the Celts and other shamans know very well.

The darkness is the darkness of the womb, of potential, of creation. The chrysalis where the caterpillar transforms into the soup of Life and then remakes him or herself into a butterfly.

Knowing this is why the Celts work from the pole, the place the sun never travels through, to the dawn, then the zenith ending at the nadir where the sun sets. As I said in the previous post, this is from the north round to the west in the northern hemisphere, and from the south round to the west in the southern hemisphere.

Midwinter is the shortest day of the year, as far as sunlight goes. At the poles, the sun doesn’t rise at all.

–       Remember, midwinter for the north is midsummer for the south! I’m writing from the place where I am, the northern hemisphere and Britain. If you live in the southern hemisphere then the same ideas apply but you transport them 6 months down the line.

Meditations for the season of Sun-Return, the midwinter solstice, often call up these concepts of birth, and of death. TS Eliot’s words in his poem “The Journey of the Magi” are very apt – whatever your spiritual beliefs …

… were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Eliot hits the nail on the head with his usual acumen, “were we led all that way for Birth or Death?”. This is how it is for the shaman. He describes the death as “hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death” and so this transit of the year is for the spiritually aware. Change is like that and this change, from the going down into the darkness to the coming out into the light is just such a one. Richard Bach put it very well, “what the caterpillar calls a nervous breakdown, the master calls a butterfly”. However, we all know how hard it is to see that from the caterpillar’s perspective!

Eliot goes on to say, “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods”. I find this very profound. On the surface we cans see the Christian pulling away the skirts from that which might contaminate. But go deeper. We all feel this as we grow and change, as we re-enter the womb, decompose and then recompose again, are birthed into, what is to us, a new world. We are no longer at ease with the way things were/are. We see friends and neighbours even as aliens, clutching at different beliefs to those we now have. Part of us often wants to crawl back into the womb so we don’t have to live in the new world in which we find ourselves … but we can’t. We have to continue, to live, to grow to change.

It can indeed feel like living in one of Bosch’s paintings. But contemplation and meditation, working the shaman’s way, asking one’s Familiars, one’s Totem group, asking all the elders of the world – all of creation, which is far older than us – to guide and guard and keep us through this time of change really works. It really does help. I do it myself every season and I help others to do it too.

Being brave enough to go down into the dark, to die to the past, to go into the womb of the mother and ask to be reborn … these are the good and beautiful things of this season of Sun-Return.

Sun Wise

at the going down of the sun ... In Celtic tradition we begin our celebrations on the Eve of the feast day, in the darkness.

The shaman works in Middleworld by weaving the colours of Life, the shapes and patterns of Living. It’s what we all do by being alive, by incarnating. We cannot not do this as long as we’re alive, every breath we take affects everything else – ponder on that, get the sense and truth of it into your bones, it will help you know the connectedness of all things.

Weaving the light is seen on all shamanic traditions – not always called that – usually through the medium of the directions: North, East, South, West, for us in the northern hemisphere. Probably South, East, North West in the southern hemisphere.

Why the opposite way round? Think about it. In the north we Celts begin in the place of darkness, which is the north for us. It’s the place the sun never goes to. For us the sun rises in the east, travels to the south for midday then sets in the west. The sunrises in the east and sets in the west wherever you are on the Earth. Because of the way the earth travels around the sun it’s impossible for it to be any other way. But whichever way we watch the passage of the sun the dark place will be at the Pole – north or south pole – the place where the sun never goes.

You may also have noticed that in the north deosil – which is what we call the path the sun travels, the god-path – goes “clockwise”. In the southern hemisphere deosil goes the other way around, “anticlockwise”. We only call it clockwise since we invented watches and clocks, a few hundred years back, not the ancient clocks of land markers, the stars and the stone circles. Clockwise is a modern term and invented in the northern hemisphere and should not be taken as gospel for everything, everywhere.

This makes a mockery of the common prejudice amongst new agers that it’s “good” to go around clockwise and invites the “bad” in if you go around anticlockwise. I was once told by an intense and autocratic “shaman” that if I went round anticlock the sun might fall out of the sky! I was so stunned that an apparently intelligent woman could say such a thing I never got to asking her about all the above … probably a good thing to let her be.

The prejudice for deosil over widdershins is a Christian fable, put up as part of their massive hard-sell of “the new religion” amongst the peoples of the northern Europe, and not one we should encourage to  continue now. It makes it very hard for people to understand reality – e.g. that deosil, sunwise, is the other way around for people living in the southern hemisphere. This, despite many of them having black skin and being shamans and magicians (thank the gods!) does not make them devils … which is what many of the Victorian missionaries called them. That (hopefully) is quite shocking to us now.

Weaving the patterns of Life means weaving in both directions.

Think about the act of weaving. You raise one set of threads – the even numbers we’ll say for simplicity – and pass the shuttle through the gap between the upper and lower threads, making a row of weaving. Then you drop the even-number threads down and raise the odd-number threads. Again, you pass the shuttle through the gap, making another row of weaving. The first row, you pass the shuttle from right to left (say), deosil. The second row you pass the shuttle from left to right.

You go both ways in order to achieve a piece of cloth!

Let’s take another example from the physical world – DNA. One of the major points of DNA is the double-helix. Two spirals. Twisting around each other and exchanging the knowledge of the genes in order to create life and maintain it. It too spirals both ways.

Now an example from the past. The doctor’s symbol in the western world is the caduceus staff. This is a rod with two snakes twining up it, making a double spiral (double-helix). It’s been used for several thousand years and is associated with the Greek gods Apollo and Hermes, gods of wisdom, knowing and the transmission of knowing. In fact, Merlin is often associated with Hermes and sometimes even with Apollo, although his energy is far older than either of them. We humans tend to associate things with what we already know and, for many, the Greek gods are better known than our own Celtic ones, although the Greeks knew of us and respected our ways, calling us the land Behind the North Wind.

So the caduceus staff is another example of the fact that Life, in order to exist, travels its energy in both directions.

So going sunwise, deosil, in itself indicates going in two directions at once. It shows us that life, as Bilbo put it, is to go and to return. To go and to return is the journey of the shaman, the oldest form of spiritual path amongst humanity and still going strong now.

In this Eve of the solstice, the time when the sun appears to stand still for three days – giving us three days in which to contemplate the meaning of life – let’s think about this, take it into our skull-cauldrons and allow it to brew there quietly. On the day of Sun-Return (25th December, when the sun appears to begin to move forward again) the three drops of wisdom may leap out of the cauldron onto our thumbs so we can suck them up.

On Nurturing Creativity with Elizabeth Gilbert

This video comes from TED, a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.

This talk is with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love. The focus is on writers nurturing creativity and ego from a spiritual sense, and the information is too good not to share.

 

 

From the website:

“The annual TED conferences, in Long Beach/Palm Springs and Oxford, bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).”

“On TED.com, we make the best talks and performances from TED and partners available to the world, for free. More than 700 TEDTalks are now available, with more added each week. All of the talks are subtitled in English, and many are subtitled in various languages. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted.”

Expecting the Norm

So here’s what happened.

I was at one of these conference-type things with a friend (we’ll call her Jules), shopping for pagan statuary and taking little workshops on things such as Past Life DNA, The Buddha in You, and Intuitive Expression through Art. We’re wandering around, and we see my book being sold at one of the stands. I get excited of course – it’s been a year since publishing and I still take cell phone pics of my book whenever I’m in a bookstore – and my friend and I are giggling and fawning over it. A woman standing next to us overhears our conversation, and says “You wrote that book?”

“Yes, that one’s mine,” I said, still smiling.

“Really?” she said. “You?

And I, being easily offended and occasionally having no class, sucked my teeth and said, “Yeah, me!”

“Oh. I have your book, it’s great,” the woman said. I sparkled with pride, until she looked me up and down and then said, “You’re just not what I expected.”

My friend and I glanced each other, confused. “And what exactly did you expect?”

She looked thoughtful. “Well, you just don’t look like you wrote a book about Goddesses.”

And Jules, having even less class than I, said, “Is that ‘cuz she’s black, or because she’s not dressed in a cloak?”

Good question, Jules.

Let me interject here. This is a reaction I get often. Most women in this area of spirituality are not of color. Few are as young as me and gotten to this level of teaching and healing. Even fewer have a penchant for corsets and hot pink Converse sneakers.

And to a certain degree, Inappropriate Stranger Lady was right, I don’t look like a “typical goddess woman” – if there is such a thing. I’m African American and covered in tattoos of religious symbols. I often reek of coffee and cigarette smoke, because most of my time is spent at cafes with a Camel perched between my lips.  My wardrobe ranges from business suits to jeans and t-shirts, to gothic and steampunk inspired garb. My hairstyle changes as often as my wardrobe.  I am not a vegan. I grew up in the ghetto, fuck is my favorite word, and I flirt with anything that moves.

And within all that, I understand that first impressions are lasting.  That’s why I don’t show up to work in fishnets and a top hat, cursing like a sailor. But even in my best suit, there is always a glimmer of surprise when someone meets me for the first time. I’ve even had one client say, “Wow! You’re black! You didn’t sound black on the phone.”

But I get it. I’m not what most people expect when they buy my book, come to classes or make an appointment for counseling and energy healing. Many people, regardless of religion or caste, hear the words ‘goddess’ or  ‘spiritual’ and look forward to seeing me dressed in ritual robes or a dashiki, or for me to finish every sentence with “blessed be.”  Some assume I’m a lesbian. Others see my skin color and are confused as to why I am not a Baptist, or surprised that I’m articulate. The stereotyping of spiritual people by other spiritual people is a regular occurrence, and to me it’s a bit odd.  Aren’t we the ones who are supposed to be connected, the ones who see beyond socialization and conventionalism? But this pigeonholing happens, and most times people don’t even realize they are doing it. For some reason, we think:  If you’re a Buddhist, you look and speak this way, a Christian walks and talks this way.  Goddess women wear gauzy dresses and no bra.

For a long time, I tried to separate the facets of my life. Spirituality writing from fiction writing, comic book writing from ritual writing, meditation retreats from I-need-a-drink retreats.  I was driven to believe that since the two facets of my personality were so far from one another that it would be best if my behavior reflected as such – the Narrator vs. Tyler Durden.

And one day, during a deep meditation, I saw how much of myself I was hiding from the world, and my own consciousness. And why was I doing that – to make others more comfortable? To get more clients, or a better chance at getting published? Was I seriously sacrificing my own comfort level, happiness, and growth to supply people with what they were expecting to see?

The different things I am interested in don’t seem to mix, but they are all a part of the same path because they all come from me.  Those facets are all part of one diamond. My job in it is to accept who I am, love that person with all of her strangeness, challenges, and loveliness. This is who Spirit built me to be. My tattoos, my skin, my love of Bauhaus give me access to teach and thrive in areas where the ‘typical’ person would be denied entry. My knowledge and my kookiness all combine and work together to give me the insight and the experiences I need in order to do my part in healing and blessing the world.

So while l I may not look like the typical Goddess woman, the typical counselor, the typical spiritualist, it’s who I am. If all the wondrous things I am make me an oddity – hooray! Who the hell wants to be normal, anyway? A complete and total dichotomy, the intersecting point between the expected norm and the unknown alternative, that’s me. Only now, I’m no longer afraid to admit it, I’ve stopped trying to dissect it, and I’m showing it without shame or explanation.

There are counterculture spiritual folks out there waving the freaky flag with me (from the Dharma Punx to the Christian Goths), people from a different walk of life who find their pleasure and their joy from Spirit, those who may seem atypical to the generalized unpierced crowd but at their foundation are seekers of truth, love, and peace.

Some may shy away from us because of how we appear, and honestly, that’s ok. Please, keep your assumptions and your judgment over there in your corner. I’m used to being one of two colored folks in the room when I attend/teach classes and events. I’ve accepted the odd looks and the timid handshakes, and in some groups the talking down or flat-out segregation. It’s cool, because their reaction to me – before I’ve even said a word – says more about who they are than who I am. And hopefully one day they’ll learn the lesson hidden within their negative or surprised response. Perhaps that’s the purpose I am meant to serve in their lives – to shine a disco light on that piece of them that expects the average, the mundane.

Because in spite of my unconventional appearance, I’ve worked as a healer and teacher for over a decade. I’ve studied spirituality for more than half my life. I’ve helped women and men all over the world heal and transform themselves. Sometimes in jeans, sometimes at a workshop, sometimes sipping a martini. Always Black, and usually smelling good.

And I can look in the mirror without flinching, nicotine stained fingers and all.

Spirit Dolls

Spirit Dolls are a way of embodying the spirits who wish to work with you. Giving the spirit a physical form enables it to work consciously with you, you bond with the spirit and it with you.

The word Doll comes from the Greek name Dorothy, meaning gift of the gods so the spirit Doll is a gift from you to the gods, the a gift from the gods back to you when enspirited. This workshop, we will make Spirit Dolls and invite the spirit that wishes to work with each of us to come enspirit the Doll.

The workshop is held in Jennie’s vegetarian cafe, lunch, coffee and tea are included. Please bring with you any special things that you would like to include in your doll, otherwise materials will be provided. The workshop will include …

* What are spirit dolls and who uses them
* A journey to meet the spirit of your Doll
* Making the doll
* Ritual embodying the spirit
* Stories, chants, drumming, rattling as part of the ritual and journey
* Both women & men are invited

* Date: 23 Jan 2011
* Cost: £50
* Venue: Hereford
* Time: 10.30am to 5pm

* Contact us to book your place

__________________________________________
Elen Sentier & Jennie Russell-Smith Celtic Shamans

Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Slanting Light

This land

The first few days back in Gloucestershire, I was disorientated and it felt like being in a dream. Part of that was due to sleep deprivation, which always does odd things to my head. Some weeks on, and the dream like quality remains. Thinking back to my childhood here, that slightly unreal feeling was (I think) present then too. Is that part of this place, or something in me?

Last week I spent an hour at twilight in the church grounds – a peaceful place to sit and contemplate, and to consider the ancestors. This week I did a little digging, marvelling at the richness of the soil, the soft, crumbling fertility of it. People around here grow a lot of fruits and vegetables. After the heavy clay, that I couldn’t persuade to grow anything much, this is an interesting change. A druid girl once commented on the richness of soil in a place we were visiting – how you could almost feed off it. I keep thinking about that comment. Not in an entirely literal way, but what rich soil does to the soul, compared to earth that has been denuded of life, or tarmacked over.

I’m conscious that the pace of life is slower here. Not as much traffic on the roads, not as much push and commerce. It’s not an area that could be called ‘thriving’ – employment opportunities are few, and the amenities you’d take for granted in a bigger place are absent. Sat in the sun yesterday, sewing and breathing, I became aware of the change of tempo, and that it is ok to rest a little. Part of that is more about my personal journey, but some of it is external as well.

I’m wondering just how much the character of the land affects the atmosphere of a place. Obviously, what humans have, or have not built makes a lot of difference, and that’s informed to a degree by the geography – too many steep hills and good farmland here to encourage other developments. Beyond that though, in the character of the soil, in the spirit of a place, can there be serious differences? Do I feel like I’m in a dream here because that is, in part, the nature of this land?

We are affected by what our ancestors of place bequeath to us in terms of their constructions – in some places in the UK, field systems and lanes are several thousand years old. We still have Viking street plans some places… history is very present, with narrow roads made before cars, and struggling with modern traffic. In the West Midlands, the ancestors of place were very much caught up in the industrial revolution, which creates its own legacy, then ongoing industrialisation, slums, new towns, and the falling away of the factories that supported them. In Gloucestershire the changes have been far less radical over time – and the area I’m in does a lot of farming, as it always did. Far fewer people work on the land now though.

I spend a lot of time looking at the landscape, feeling how it affects me, and wondering what on earth possessed me to leave here eleven years ago.