Gods and silent phone calls

My phone rings. I pick it up and glance at the ID. The name of an immigrant friend flashes on the screen. I push "answer" but there is no sound. 

"Hello," I say. "Hello? Can you hear me?"

Nothing. It is likely her kids are playing with the phone or it's in her purse. My name starts with A and I probably get more than my fair share of these calls. But then again something may be wrong with the phone. she may have accidentally pressed mute or it could be a temporary glitch. I've also had plenty of those calls. 

And because my friend is an immigrant in a hostile country and living with a person who physically abused her in the past, I am also on alert for worse scenarios. A silent call could have signals in it.

Image via  Pixabay

Image via Pixabay

A lot of people when they get a silent call like this, they'll keep repeating "Hello? Hello?" often with an irritated tone and then hang up. They would never want to be rude but this response is automatic.

But they don't think through the equation. They focus only on their own experience. We are pestered by a phone, it rings, we pick it up and there is silence--frustrating, confusing and time-wasting silence.  Meanwhile the other person is A. not there and the phone is in their pocket or in the hands of a two-year-old, or B. they are there and yelling "Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?" into their own phone, or C. they accidentally dialed the number in a meeting or a theater and they are frantically pressing mute and trying to hang up, or D. they’ve been kidnapped and they are trying to signal for help.

None of these scenarios justifies the irritation and none are helped by the chaotic responses.

They can either hear you or they cannot hear you. Those are the only real options.

I don't know if my friend can hear me or not, but if she can’t hear me there is no reason to yell into the phone with irritation and nothing I say matters. If she can’t hear me, I should mainly get off the phone reasonably quickly, so as not to exhaust her phone credit.

On the other hand, if she can hear me, what I say does matter. If there is a phone glitch and she’s struggling with it too, my irritation could easily be understood as frustration with her. When you question whether or not the other side can hear you, your words must reflect an assumption that they can, because your response will then be either helpful or neutral in either reality.

That is the only response that makes any sense, and it can lower your own stress in case your words are only for yourself.

After I repeat "Hello" three times, I ask slowly and with enunciation "Can you hear me? I can't hear you." The connection could be bad, so it is worth speaking slowly and clearly. But still I speak with a tone that assumes my friend is there.

I wait a moment, being quiet so that I can hear even a muted reply or tapping or any signal of trouble. Nothing. I repeat the routine once. Then I speak clearly into the phone, "I can't hear you. Try calling again. I will wait. And in five minutes I'll call you back."

Then I hang up, wait five minutes and call my friend back. This time it was a phone glitch. My friend could hear me but I couldn’t hear her. She tried to call back but didn’t get through. There is no emergency. We connect and get on with the day.

When I first began sitting at my altar in the mornings for daily prayer and meditation, the experience was somewhat like that silent phone call.

A lot of people don't believe in literal deities and I was not certain about them either. I felt like I was listening to a silent phone line. There were signs, things that made me feel the presence of something greater than me. Sometimes I would even get a caller ID of sorts and know specific the name or identity of a deity that might be there. But not much more. 

I had noticed that people often speak to the gods the same way they talk during a muted phone call. They demand, exclaim and shout, but then assume no one is there. 

To me that approach doesn't make any more sense than it does on the phone. Either my gods can hear me or they cannot. Just because I can’t hear them, doesn’t mean they can’t hear me.

If they cannot hear me or simply are not real, then what I say matters only to me. My experience of stress or comfort matters only to me. If, on the other hand, they are there and can hear me, then what I say may matter a great deal. 

Since we cannot know, cannot call the deities back as easily as we call our friends back, it seems most reasonable to assume that they are there and they can hear. 

Since I started going on this premise, assuming that my matron goddess can hear me, I have slowly felt a greater connection.

I recently made my own Ogham sticks and because my matron goddess is an Irish goddess, these sticks seem an appropriate divination tool. Since then it is as if the phone connection has opened a little. I get snatches of conversation, the odd clear reply, a bit of static but more importantly, I know someone is there.

It may not be easy, but we can call back.

Dedication to Brigid

This Imbolc, after thirteen years of searching and a year and a day of study and devotion to Brigid, I have chosen my specific path and made my dedication. This has come at a time of great injustice in the world. Brigid is in her warrior guise and rides to protect outsiders, refugees and children. Healers are needed. Poets and writers are needed. Warriors for justice are needed. I do not know all the twists and turns of the path ahead but I have faith in her guidance. 

Simple method for making a beautiful Brigid doll

My eight-year-old daughter is not normally very excited about crafts and she tends to be impatient, so I was amazed and delighted by our success with this craft. 

We made Brigid dolls today--two of them because she decided to set up her own altar and wanted to make her own doll all by her self. The craft held her interest for several hours and came out really beautiful.

1. We took a square of white cloth and put a solid ball of cotton in the middle of it. You can use anything from crumpled paper to cloth scraps to a Styrofoam craft ball. You can also use a white paper handkerchief in place of a white cloth for a quick but less durable doll. 

2. We then gathered the corners of the cloth and tied a red or gold string under the ball to form a kind of neck. We cut slits every few inches in the cloth, almost up to but not quite reaching the neck. 

3. Then we rolled up another smaller rectangle of cloth and tied it at the ends to form arms. This we inserted under the neck through the slits, so that the arms protrude on both sides. (I also inserted a little extra cloth in min for breasts but my daughter didn't. You can see the difference in the photos below.

4. Then we inserted some dried lavender stalks from the bottom in place of legs. This makes the doll smell wonderful. You can substitute many different herbs or stalks of grain. Really anything symbolizing your last-year's harvest is symbolically appropriate. 

5. We tied a second string around the middle under the arms, This serves as a waist and holds the herb stalks in place. 

6. Now it was time to decorate the doll. First we put on hair. We loosely sewed embroidery floss into the head, letting each stitch dangle for several inches. This was by far the most difficult and time-consuming part of the craft and it could be avoided by coloring or gluing on wool, fabric or feathers in place of hair. But we loved the look of the embroidery floss.

7. We then tied and stitched a scarf or hair band on over the hair. This can also be done with hot glue. 

8. Next we put on faces. My daughter chose to color hers on with markers and I embroidered mine on, although I am no expert at embroidery. Both turned out fine.

9. I added a lace apron to match the scarf, because I had a bit of extra curtain lace hanging around. Both can be made with any white cloth or even a white paper handkerchief. 

10. Finally we used another red string to tie a few lavender sprigs into the hands so that they formed a welcoming circle in front of the doll.

All ties were made with either red or gold strings. A Brigid doll should generally be white with red, gold and possibly purple highlights. This is the doll we will use in our Imbolc ritual. We will place the dolls in baskets by the hearth to sleep through the night before Imbolc. Then the children will come and light candles and symbolically wake up Brigid to bring in the spring in the morning. It is their favorite part of the Imbolc holiday. 

I'm so happy to finally share the making of the doll with my daughter too.

By the way, this is the same craft used in the children's adventure story around Imbolc called Shanna and the Raven. Although in the book the craft is done with natural sticks or stalks of herbs for the arms as well. There is also a delicious recipe for white and red strawberry dumplings in the book. It's a story about how a couple of modern goddess-orriented kids celebrate the holiday and learn to use intuition for their own protection. 

I hope you will all have peace and inspiration this holiday. Blessings of creativity and warm hearths to all!

Imbolc or deep winter: A season in the belly

Ice outside, fire within, the strokes of brush and quill, bitter steam of medicinal plants steeping in a pot--these things defy time.

February 2, the day known to Christians as Candlemas and to modern pop culture as Ground Hog's Day was called Imbolc by the Celts of the British Isles. It is being called that again by earth-centered people all over the world.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

I grew up with many earth-centered holidays. I knew about the solstices and equinoxes. I even had some idea of the real meanings of Beltane. A harvest party in August or honoring ancestors at Halloween were also not entirely foreign concepts.

But Imbolc was new to me twelve years ago when I adopted the modern Wheel of the Year consisting of eight earth-centered holidays.

Here is a holiday entirely devoted to dreams, introspection, inspiration, intuition and creativity. It is like no other holiday because it can be easily celebrated alone and might even be best that way. 

I have come to love Imbolc. I feel like I am given permission to curl up with the Runes, Tarot and i-Ching in front of a cozy fire and dream without a schedule. I feel like I have permission to take a few days to do those quiet things I love, reading about herbal medicine (healing is a key aspect of Imbolc), creating something beautiful (art and creativity is central to Imbolc), sleeping long hours (it is natural to the season) and lighting lots of candles (the primary symbol of Imbolc is a candle).

I live far from many like-minded others and I often struggle to give my kids an experience of spiritual community. They are mildly resistant to our alternative dates for holidays at Yule or Ostara. The Summer Solstice, Lammas and Mabon just aren't quite right without a gathering of friends or community. But our home is perfect for Imbolc.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

This is truly the quiet time in our climate, surrounded by cold and frost. We light many candles and have time for more reflection and healing. The colors are stark and beautiful, white, gray and brown. With the sun returning a bit from the edge of the southern horizon, there is a realistic sense of a new year beginning.

I have become specifically devoted to the goddess Brigid in the past few years and Imbolc is the feast day of Brigid. That makes it particularly special and a time to celebrate my connection to the goddess. Brigid is concerned with healing, fire, justice, creativity, inspiration and intuition--all aspects of Imbolc and all things at the core of my life. 

I celebrate Imbolc by making Brigid's crosses for our doorways and hearth. I do divination of various types and a ritual honoring the goddess. I often place a large platter in the center of the table with sea salt, crystals and seven white candles on it. My children and I make a Brigid doll to sleep by the hearth and have a family ritual of waking up Brigid after the winter's sleep.  

Imbolc can mean different things in different climates. For many people this is the day of seeds because the ground is ready for planting. It is still too cold in our climate for planing anything but hardy starts on window sills. The concept of seeds goes along with the Wheel of the Year as a life cycle in which Imbolc is conception, Ostara is the moment of birth, Beltane is exuberant youth and so on. 

In other places though, this day is associated with pregnant ewes, and the word "Imbolc" may have originally meant "in the belly." This is because it is a fallow time in many parts of the world. Plans and activities are in the gestation phase, not yet ready to be revealed. Growth is slow and hidden. 

If you would like to learn more about Imbolc or include this holiday in a multicultural program, check out Shanna and the Raven, an Imbolc adventure story. Shanna and her brother Rye celebrate the holiday amid magic and candlelight, but there are shadows in the modern world. The kids must use intuition and signs from a mysterious raven to protect themselves from a grown-up menace.

In northern climates this was historically the time of candle making in households. There was little other work that could be done with the ground frozen and snow heavy on he earth. The year's candle supply was often made at this time and when northern Europe was Christianized, the holiday was transformed into Candlemas, in which the newly made candles are taken to the church to be blessed. 

There is certainly a connection to blessing candles and protection from fire. Brigid, both the Catholic saint of this day and the Pagan goddess of this time, is widely believed to protect homes from fire. In the Czech Republic Imbolc is still called by an old name "Hromnice" (Thundering). There is no thunder at this season, but the idea was that certain blessings or acts could be done at this time to gain protection from fire and lightening for the year. 

Whether you celebrate a specific holiday during the next few eeks or simply use the winter time for activities that get lost during the rest of the year, I wish you a good season of inspiration, healing and creativity.

A book review and then some: How I found the goddess Brigid

I think a Goddess may have chosen me. I say this not with the connotation that I am special. Instead I feel as though I was trying in vain to find my own Gods for a good part of my adult life. I'm too analytical for this to be a conscious task. Instead, I think a Goddess has finally chosen me--in the same way that I think a God or Goddess would choose every one of us if given a chance.

I was brought up with earth-based spirituality, but not much focus on deities. We had Greek, Norse and Native American myths and I felt a spiritual connection to the stories of Persephone and Demeter and I liked Thor simply for his brashness. But other than that, they were just stories—stories of significance and meaning, sure, but not infused with that sense of powerful consciousness and personality that seems to mark the true presence of a deity for others. 

Then a few years ago, I began noticing references to Brigid in increasing frequency—in stories that I read or in spiritual books and divination. The name kept coming up. I had never even heard of a Goddess named Brigid before that time. And I felt it was too cumbersome a name to give to a child, even though I had good reason to like it.

When I was sixteen, I ended up alone and frightened at a strict Catholic school in Germany among strangers who vocally rejected me because of my vision impairment. The one person who was kind and accepting toward me was a classmate named Birgid, obviously a variant of Brigid. I was not able to stay in contact with that classmate, but over more than twenty years, her memory has always stayed strong with me. And so when I began to hear the name Brigid, I connected it to that memory.

As such, Brigid had a head start in my heart. But at first, I thought that this Goddess was only one among many. Despite the fact that she is quite popular in some Neopagan circles, I did not find her in many of the lists and books about European Gods and Goddesses. From her conspicuous absence from some anthologies, I would have thought she was a minor figure. But as I have since learned, that is far from the truth. 

Brigid began to come into my life more forcefully in the past two years, when I became a published author. I heard more about Brigid, although it was usually in a passing comment or a random story, rather than in weighty spiritual books. After I had published my first three novels, I decided to begin my hearth-side email circle and make the theme of my website an online hearth that welcomes all and particularly those who have faced injustice in society. 

The idea first came to me while I was traveling in Portland, Oregon and one night I sat down with friends for a little wine and Tarot. I was telling my friends about my new business plans, when one woman--who says she doesn’t even remember doing so--turned to me and said, “Well, you know. There is a connection you should make. The hearth, writing, your healing work with herbs and your activism—it’s all very much the work of Brigid.”

I was taken aback and momentarily confused. Here was Brigid again, this time not just a passing reference but one very specifically directed at me. At the same time, I was struggling to integrate my new ideas and I didn’t have the patience for any digression. So, I let the comment pass. 

But Brigid didn’t let me be. Over the next few months, it seemed as if her name came up in every book I picked up. But there was precious little real information to be had about her until I ran across an Amazon recommendation for a book called Brigid: History, mystery, and magick of the Celtic Goddess by Courtney Weber. 

I’m a shrewd shopper, so I looked at other books on the goddess, but that one that I came across at random called to me. And I didn’t have the money to buy any book at the time, so I put it on my wish list. 

Then this past month, I ended up on the other side of the world in Portland, Oregon again and went into a Pagan bookstore with a little money in my pocket and a promise to get a gift “from my higher self to myself” as my mother likes to put it. And that was where I finally found a real goddess.

So, here is my review of the book with one caveat. This is a highly subjective, personal thing. Many people may be inspired by another deity or another book. And this book may not speak to everyone in the way that it speaks to me. But there it is.

I very rarely find a non-fiction book I can’t put down, but I read this book in record time, snatching every little minute and skimping on sleep while trying to juggle work, writing, herbal practice, activism and children—much the way Brigid juggles the aspects of hearth-keeper, bard, healer, smith and occasional warrior for just causes. The writing is that good.

Within these pages I found a reflection of the divine that I can embrace personally and wholeheartedly as never before. The author Courtney Weber does a masterful job of telling her own story of discovery in a way that is humble, credible and humorous while presenting spirited retellings of traditional tales, historical research, personal reflections, meditation exercises, ritual templates and divination practices.

The structure of the book is both organic and quite clear to me. Reading it felt like gaining two spiritual allies at the same time, Weber and Brigid—one immediate in this world and the other a picture pieced together from fragments until it became the goddess.

I had long since despaired of ever finding a specific path or teaching that I could adopt as my own. And I am very excited to have been proven wrong in that jaded belief. Weber’s approach to Brigid is as close as I have ever found to my heart’s way. I recommend that particularly those devoted to writing and other poetic arts, healing and activism give this book a try. It may just have more miracles to work.

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Arie Farnam

Arie Farnam is a war correspondent turned peace organizer, a tree-hugging herbalist, a legally blind bike rider, the off-road mama of two awesome kids, an idealist with a practical streak and author of the Kyrennei Series. She grew up outside La Grande, Oregon and now lives in a small town near Prague in the Czech Republic.