As we packed for our second pilgrimage to Ireland I jokingly said to my partner that it was like we were packing for a trip to the Otherworlds. And after a moment he nodded and said “Well, yeah. We are.” On the one hand my grandmother on my father’s side was born in Ireland, and grew up on a little farm in Mayo. It is a place that has family ties and calls to me on that level. And on the other hand, it does feel like the Otherworlds in my mind. It is the place where the myths happened. It is very difficult to describe the awe I find in walking through the landscape of old dusty stories I have read and cherished, stories that have shaped my views of the Gods and my devotion to them. To not just walk the land but touch the stones upon it, breathe the air where the myth happened. I suppose it might be like going to Jerusalem from some people. If there is a Mecca, a holy place for me, it is Ireland.
My first trip was strongly centered on the Morrigan, as we were traveling specifically to sites connected to her. It deepened my understanding and devotion to her in so many indescribable ways. It could be called an initiation, or perhaps a deepening of a devotion. Even now I think of things in terms of “Before the Cave of Cruachan”, and “After the Cave of Cruachan”. Because I crawled out of that cave altered, different than when I crawled in.
So as I packed for our second pilgrimage, facilitated through the highly recommended Land Sea Sky travel, I really didn’t know what to think. Would this trip be like the last? I tried very hard to go into it without expectations. And as it turned out this trip was more subtle, but no less moving. Our focus was on several of the Gods of the Tuatha instead of one single one. I felt the Morrigan often. Saw many hooded crows along our journey. But this time The Morrigan was a background presence, there and powerful, almost as if she was stepping back, guarding the boarders, so that I might talk and connect to other things.
|Tech Duinn, Donn's island where the dead |
gather before moving on
On the last trip I knew I needed to go into the cave. I can’t even describe the pull I felt, the utter glee and drive I felt, to dive down into that dark muddy cave entrance not knowing or caring what was in that darkness. Because I needed to be there. And that was that. This time was a little different. The sites I hadn’t expected to connect with were all the ones I had the most profound experiences with. What I also didn’t expect was how strongly Brighid and The Cailleach’s presence would come through for me on this trip. What I love about pilgrimage is that everyone on the journey with us is there for different reasons, sometimes picking up very different things from the places we visit. Our journeys where all markedly different, yet we could travel the same road together, each finding what we needed. For some it was about connecting to ancestors, other to the Good Neighbors, for others The Gods, and for others it was the journey itself.
A friend recently posted online about how her practices the longer she has been Pagan have become simpler. It’s something that really resonates with me. I still do large public rituals, and they can be very moving and powerful. But in my own personal practice I find the majority of the things I do are simpler, and quieter than my Paganism ten plus years ago. Sitting and connecting to a place, quietly communing with the Gods as I pour offerings and stand before an altar.
These are the things that are at the center of what I do. We did a few simple rituals on our pilgrimage, one a ritual in motion as we hiked the landscape, which I enjoyed immensely. But our focus was the land, the Gods and spirits, and connection. Ritual can give you connection. But sometimes just sitting quietly, being still and open, can be more profound than ritual.
|Tree with hundreds of coins jammed into the trunk|
Being of service to the lands and these sacred sites can also build that connection. Everywhere we went we picked up garbage left behind. And we removed certain offerings that were damaging the sites. At many of the sites we visited people left pennies and other coins. I’m unaware of specifically why modern people have started doing this. Many of the places we found them it seemed like people left coins simply because they had seen that other people had done the same. Some were even wedged or jammed into the stones themselves or into the trunks of trees. So yes we removed these offering. We went about it respectfully, and the removed coins were collected so they could be left in donation boxes at the sites meant to help with the upkeep of these sacred places. In a way these offering that were damaging these sites have become a new kind of offering, one that will sustain the land instead. Once we removed the coins, the damage was very clear in many places. The coins in particular causing corrosion and damaging the rocks. My favorite picture of the trip is one at the Cailleach’s stone with everyone’s hands around it as we picked up coins and garbage from the place. I didn’t get any profound messages from that site, although I know others did, but the message this place had for me was different. For me it was less about me getting something, a message etc, than it was about caring for the place itself. The energy felt stagnant when we first arrived, like a damned up river, but when we left it felt like that river was flowing and peaceful again. The feeling was so profoundly changed I held back tears. Later on that day at Derreen Gardens I found a hag stone as we walked one of the trails, and I took it as a positive sign from the Cailleach, acknowledging what we had done.
|Working together to clean the Cailleach's stone|
|Stone circle at the top of Cashelkeelty|
Our last stop that day was visiting Cashelkeelty. To get to the stone circles at the top, which also has a spectacular view that no picture can do justice to, we hiked through a forested area, past waterfalls, through rolling hills and through sheep fields. We stopped at different changes in the landscape and spoke of the different faces of Brigid. And when we reached the top we found the highest point and made offerings to her and sang in praise of her. Afterwards as we explored the stone circles I touched one of the standing stones and experienced what could be called an aisling, a vision of sorts. And I understood why the Morrigan had been there guarding in the background, because for this trip is was my time to deepen my devotion to Brigid, to acknowledge something that has been playing out for a long time. Brigid has been a part of my life as long as the Morrigan has, may times the two operating in tandem. It was a quiet moment, yet a deeply moving one for me.
Some years ago at a snowy Imbolc ritual in CT my friend has embodied the Cailleach in ritual, starting out stooped and veiled. In the ritual she drank from a well and pushed back her cloak transforming into Brigid. Acting as a vessel for Brigid she gave messages to those gathered. And what I experienced on Cashelkeelty echoed and reaffirmed the message from that ritual years before. And I found a synchronicity in that both the Cailleach and Brigid were present in that long ago ritual, and that they both spoke strongly to me during my journey on this trip through the Beara Peninsula.
This pilgrimage was just as profound and moving as the first one. But I find it difficult to explain my experiences at times. To my co-workers I went on vacation and came back with lots of pictures “of rocks and sheep”. Some of my Pagan friends have asked if we did lots of spectacular rituals. And my answer is no, but we did a few simple ones. Then what did you do for ten days? Well.....
I sat and spoke to the land, I listened for the voices of the Gods in the winds, sought their presence in the places where land meets sea, looked for them on rolling and cresting waves, I sat and was quiet and listened, and all the world spoke to me in those quiet moments.
|Whale Watch and a day connecting to Manannán|