Smudging is a practice that involves the burning of sacred herbs, typically sage or other local medicinal plants, and using the smoke to cleanse a space, object, or person.
Here are some commonly mentioned benefits of smudging:
The adventure of covid
We managed to escape it for 2 years, but in the middle of our time in Ireland, we both got it! It made for a quiet week in County Clare, but since we didn’t feel too bad (like we had a bad cold is all), we went wandering a few times in the car into some of our favourite isolated places (no people but lots of sheep and cows)….And scenery of course.
It felt strange to have caught the thing that had changed the world so much and provoked so much fear and isolation. It feels strange to be somewhere where it mostly feels like it never happened (except for old tatty signs about hand washing, and testing locations). People are still dying from covid. More in Australia than ever before apparently. For me, the whole experience has created a lack of trust and a confusion- what’s the truth? I guess there is many truths.
One of my favourite things in Ireland is checking out Sacred Wells. There are many of course. Most now Christian-ised but existing , used and venerated before that of course. Here are a few of my favourites:
The Lady’s Well in Kenmare, County Kerry with my Yule (Winter Solstice) candle lit at the moment of solstice here (summer solstice here, winter solstice in Australia)- it was raining, windy and very cold (this is summer in Ireland).
Sheela Na Gigs
We have spent a lot of time tramping around looking for Sheela na Gigs on every visit to Ireland (variously pronounce Sheela na GIG or Sheela na Ghee by those Irish experts I have met- Irish is Síla na Gigh).
The meaning of the words also varies according to what you read. Sheela: feminine, connected with Sidhe (Shee- the fairy folk of Ireland). Gigh: variously breasts, buttocks- The Sheela na Gig Ireland website is very clear that the pronunciation is Ghee and that the word is still in use and refers to the Vulva.
In any case, it is always a great pleasure to find a Sheela that we haven’t seen before. We found 4 last week. We have a battered map by Jack Roberts (the Sheela-na-Gigs of Ireland: An Illustrated Map and Guide) that we have used since 2009. Jack Roberts put it all into a book in 2018 which is updated (“new” Sheelas are regularly found) and we used that as well as the website.
And who or what might they be? Jack Roberts says:
“Sheela-na-Gigs are carvings of naked females posing in a manner that is usually described as “exhibiting” themselves and are often found on churches and other religious structures. Even more surprising is the fact that they are not hidden or put somewhere they could be missed but are usually placed in the most prominent and visible positions where everyone could see them such as above the main doorway or over a prominent window”
No-one knows what they actually mean- there is a lot of supposition but every Sheela is unique (although the exposed vulva is a distinct commonality) and she is variously connected with fertility, the Cailleach or Hag, or simply put there to place the fear of God in men related to women and sexuality.
Sheela-na-Gigs were created over 5 centuries– between the 12th and 17th century, so some refer to her as a medieval Goddess/symbol.
Last week we visited one in County Sligo and 3 in County Mayo
Firstly, there is Herself in County Sligo (originally from Behy Castle (in ruins) and now stored in a farm building):
I wanted to see this Sheela but it is on private land and we are super sensitive about entering these places.
Geoff insisted on visiting the farmhouse 5 times no less- no one was home and I was for giving up, but he persisted. The 5th time led us to relatives of the owner who said the wife of the owner could be “contrary”, so we were a little concerned when we knocked on her door.
She was a delight! She hates the Sheela and never goes down there because when she met her husband she was told that he was one of 10 children and this had been attributed to the Sheela. She said one child was enough for her! She said that she often gets visitors from all over the world and often they are seeking a blessing from the Sheela for their own fertility. Geoff wasn’t keen to have a child at this stage of our lives but I re-assured him that it would be a miracle indeed if that was to happen!!
She is stored in a barn building which is piled high with varied farm equipment and detritus. Such an Irish thing to have such treasures merged with the live-a-day world. She is painted red and apparently no one knows when or why that was done- or what the paint consists of. She is in fantastic condition as she has been protected from the elements for so long.
We arrived and spent one week in County Donegal and it was hard to leave. The little cottage where we were staying in was so comfortable and in the midst of pristine beaches, beautiful sunsets over the Atlantic and places with so many old stories.
We imagined this was my Cailleach cottage (this is not where we were staying! But very close by) – even at low tide, it appeared inaccessible from the beach – a small rivulet of water remained a barrier…I loved the wild isolation of it!
Geoff took to sitting out behind our cottage watching the view and the sunset.
We also went walking on a day when the weather was finer and the wind less biting. There was not a person to be seen and the beaches are truly magnificent and pristine in their wildness.
When we rather reluctantly left, after trialling seafood chowder at multiple pubs (none as good as the one at Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin so far) and discovering a new addiction to deep fried Brie (the waist line is feeling a little tight already), we set off for County Sligo. There’s many things I love about Sligo County- including that it’s W.B.Yeats country (I am a Fangirl of his) and the ancient landscapes of Carrowkeel, Carrowmore, Keash caves and on……. (there will be more about these in the next newsletter)
It’s been one week since we arrived in Ireland. I have discovered a few things. One is that flying is not as much fun as it used to be, sadly. But taking photos is fun.
DublinDublin was super crowded which I didn’t enjoy and my favourite writer’s museum has closed down for good (which is sad). However, I saw one of the most gorgeous statues in Dublin. It’s the one of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square – I don’t know who placed a lovely pregnant woman statue next to him, but here it is and it’s quite delicious really.
The research basementThe National Museum of Ireland in Dublin graciously allowed me to enter the research basement (a maze that I would never have re-surfaced from without supervision and guidance) to see the Sheela na Gigs that are not on display in the museum.
There is maybe 10 of them, all have been “rescued” from their original sites in order to save them from the rigours of time (and weather and humans acting badly). I was allowed to see them on condition that my purpose was research only and that any photos that I took (a lot of them) were not to be published in any way (which is sad because I know many of you reading this would be keen to see them. I will find a way to conduct a research debrief at some point!
We have often journeyed around Ireland with the specific purpose of finding Sheela na Gigs in their original places. There is a great map made by Jack Roberts and also a website that is useful.
The stone of destinyI visited the Sheela on the Hill of Tara – she is so worn now that she is barely discernible, but I said hello anyway. And then to visit the Lia Fáil on the Hill of Tara – the stone of destiny – although I don’t really think anyone knows it’s purpose. As far as I can tell this rather phallic looking stone was originally at the doorway of the Mound of Hostages on the Hill and has been relocated with stories about it being related to the inauguration of the kings of Ireland. I have visited it in the freezing cold of winter when at one time someone had poured red paint all over it. This time we arrived on a very windy and cold spring day to find someone lighting incense in the depression on the top. When I first visited the Hill 25 years ago it was a little known place with very few people. Now it’s a major tourist attraction with buses coming along all day.
Yesterday I decided I wanted to read and ponder Emily Dickinson’s poem “Grief is a thing with feathers” – which (of course) she did not write.
There is a remarkable and odd little book of that name by Max Porter. It starts with a rather obnoxious crow (the thing with feathers) who facilitates the journey through grief of a man and his 2 sons who have lost partner/mother. The description of self Crow gives, goes like this: “Crow of the death-chill….God-eating, trash-licking, word murdering, carcass-desecrating math-bomb mother-f***er…..”
Maybe one needs to fully express grief (and be heard in that grief, even if that hearing is done by a crow) before one can move on to Hope…so, back to Emily Dickinson, who wrote “Hope” is the Thing With Feathers.
I will just leave it here for your possible enjoyment and contemplation – we need to grieve and we need to hope…don’t forget BOTH!
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
On Being “Spiritual” ... Or not.
I came across this saved piece of writing this morning from 2012 (I have a habit of keeping snippets of writing that have meaning for me) called “The Space Between” by Tracy Cochran.
“In the end, spiritual work is about being willing to be naked and vulnerable, about letting go of the armour of answers to live to be open and defenceless (I once heard that the word “lost” came from a Norse word that means to disband an army). Real spiritual work depends on an awareness that can embrace contradiction and brokenness - that can bear not knowing, being in between.”
A long time ago (more than 15 years I think) I was asked by someone “What is your spirituality?”- like I could define it. I recall feeling deeply uncomfortable- was my answer going to be acceptable? What was my answer anyway? Did I have an answer? I have long wished I could say in response to such questions- I’m catholic/christian/muslim/pagan/hindu etc.
Once when I was very young I thought it would be good to be jewish- because then my life would have some sort of spiritual definition.
I had a brush with the Church of Scientology back when I was a uni student in my late teens- when I was self-defined (and by family of origin) as Catholic/Christian, and recall a hearty argument about belief: I was convinced that faith/belief was everything and the Scientologist advocated (forcefully I recall) that faith/belief meant nothing if not based on “fact”.
Last year, a client came to see me because a fellow counsellor had told him I was a “spiritual” person. He assumed that meant I was Christian.
There are many things I “believe” in, and some things I “know”. I have a science degree- I know about objectivity and measurable evidence. I also have a creative imaginal world that is potent and feeds my life in ways that science cannot.
I “know” about the creative imaginal world, however, it is often devalued as childish and unproven. I have seen and experienced the creative imaginal world change many people’s lives for the better and for healing. What is psychology if not about the creative imaginal world translated into action? (As much as researchers try to make it objective and measurable).
Read the poetry of Mary Oliver or the work of Bill Plotkin and Geneen Marie Haugen (https://www.animas.org/ ).
How do you measure relationship (sociometry perhaps https://aanzpa.org/) or emotions?
Be curious about what the trees are speaking- and the ocean and that symbol or image that attracts you so much. For me, one of those symbols is the Sheela na Gig pictured above.
We must be prepared to not know- and as Rainer Maria Rilke says: “I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves...Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now...the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”
This is my prayer for my grandchildren, and dare I say, for our politicians and our world.
Clearing, by Martha Postlethwaite
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.
The Women Gathered
Last weekend the women gathered at Rydal for ‘Women Flourishing: the shadow and the light”. It was a very special weekend - full of sharing, creating, letting go, poetry, psychodrama and cyclic wisdom.
I learnt that next time I will create more space for rest and take some insect repellent spray for the mosquitos!
One thing that seemed to resonate with the women was the psychodramatic way of thinking about spontaneity - a new response to an old situation or an adequate response to a new situation. It’s lovely to hear about new responses and new role development!
We had a large working space that was often filled by the altar.
We moved the altar aside at times to create a stage for psychodrama. Much time was spent exploring the wisdom of the cycles and discussing such things like women and their hair - what does your hair symbolise for you? And the grand possibility of the subversive powerful nature of Being Maga (age 50-75, menopausal/post-menopausal).
This morning I went for a walk. Not an especially rare occurrence, but not as frequent as it “should” be (should…who created that word, seriously!!...The most guilt provoking word ever).
I went out of my front door, down the driveway and into the mist. I drank the mist in the smells and tastes and feel on my skin is so much like Ireland…and this mist in the Blue Mountains has its’ own particular taste and beauty.
I spent a significant part of the walk admiring the creative webby work of spiders. I could duck and weave under and around a few, but some were across the path at waist height - don’t go that way!
I got to thinking - the creating of the web looks (to me) like hard work.
But is it truly hard work when one does what one is meant to do? What one has been created to do?
And then I begun to hear in the mist (in my head…same thing) my favourite song which I think will be my funeral song (remind me to tell my children) “The Woman in the Moon” as sung by Barbra Streisand. It’s a battle cry for me...
Here are some words from the song:
I was warned as a child of thirteen
Not to act too strong
Try to look like you belong but don't push girl
Save your time and trouble
………Little sister, little brother
Keep on pushin'
Don't believe a word about
Things you heard about
Askin' too much too soon
Cause they can hold back the tide
But they can never hold the woman in the moon
Keep on pushin’ folks…to be and do whatever you have been created for.
And do this with ease and grace and passion.
And here is the link to Babs singing (in “A Star is Born” – with curly hair- the one with her and Kris Kristofferson- great soundtrack).
As I write this, it is the day of Beltaine – High Spring (in Australia). Thunder and lightning seems to be the order of the day! (In fact Beltaine day came with a direct lightning strike which knocked out our modem and the simultaneous thunder truly felt like all the Gods and Goddesses were playing 10 pin bowls on our roof! A deeply disturbing way to be woken up!)
I recently had a lovely massage with Angela from Awen Natural Therapies in Leura, up here in the Blue Mountains. Turns out she also creates amazing mandalas from flowers and plants that are provided to her. As it is Beltaine time in the southern Hemisphere were I live (high spring on the seasonal wheel of the year) I happened to have hawthorn flowers available in my garden, as well as some freshly unfurled oak leaves. So I sent her a photo of both.
Hawthorn is very special to me – the thorn tree that graces so many sacred wells in Ireland and graced with white blossoms (over there, in May and here in October). And oak trees (I have so many, but the one named Sheela na Gig in my front garden is most loved!), so precious with their strength and connection to the ancestors.
I love Glennie Kindred’s work on the Tree Ogham and here is what she says (in part) about these wondrous plants:
“Hawthorn – Love, the Heart, Cleansing, Releasing Blocked Energy, Protection, Preparation for Spiritual Growth.
The hawthorn has the ability on the subtle level to open the heart to spiritual growth and love. It continues and aids the process…of healing the inner child and resolving with love any areas where you might be manifesting a victim complex that will keep you vulnerable and lacking in power and energy.
Oak- Inner strength, endurance, courage, a doorway to self determination.
The Oak is a doorway to inner spirituality….she will lead the way to the truth, especially about past layers of action, and this revelation brings strength and vision, and a gateway to new understanding”.