Category Archives: Musings

Musings From the Hag in the Woods 

Ostara/Bealtaine 2023

The Nature of Nature

Well, that’s presumptuous of me. I do not and cannot possibly know the nature of nature, but my mind dances in the smells and sights of spring. I eagerly anticipate and look for the haze, the mist of green surrounding the trees as they begin to green with new leaves. I check every day for the explosion of pink and white of the fruit trees. I check the earth for the points of crocus, hyacinth, and, thrills and happiness – daffodils!. Nature is exploding with life and color all around us and it makes us want to sing, to dance, to roll in the mud (maybe…), to play with our partners. Oh, yes!

Photo by Chris F on

Imbolc with its promise of the celebration to comes passed, and Ostara with the joy and glory of the new Turn is here.

I have been asked many times to explain or define Wicca. What is Wicca? There so are many definitions depending upon one’s point of view, but always, always it is a nature religion. Many forms of Paganism also define themselves in some way as nature  religions/spiritualities. Why? More than one reason, but mostly because our religions now in some way are based on and honoring the pre-Christian religions primarily of Europe. Since these religions from what we know were based on the agricultural year and the cycles of sun and moon, so that’s what we do. And this feels natural to us. And we remember that we are a part of nature, not apart from it. The dominion over the earth doesn’t work.

The year was celebrated in the recognizable cycles: the solstices, summer and winter, the longest and shortest days of the year (shortest and longest nights of the year), and the equinoxes when days and nights were equal. Many also celebrated the the days equally in between. These became the cross quarter days. So:

Samhain (October 3, cross quarter) 

Yule (December 20/21 winter solstice)

Imbolg (February 2, cross quarter)

Ostara (March20/21, spring equinox)

Bealtaine (May 1, cross quarter)

Litha (June 20/21, summer solstice)

Lughnasah (July 1, cross quarter)

Mabon (September 30/21, fall equinox)

These are celebrated differently by different Traditions, but all have basics in common; for instance Ostara is celebrated as the first explosion of spring. And exploding it is! No one can walk outside without being bombarded by birds (have you heard the baby crows cawing their little heads off demanding dinner?), assaulted by the incredibly powerful smells of fresh growth, and seeing everywhere the gray of winter disappearing under waves of green. So yes, let’s have a wonderful ritual thanking the Lady for this majestical display!

Photo by Pixabay on

But the overall question remains. What truly is a nature spirituality? What does it mean, and how do we as Pagans live that? Is it just honoring then Wheel of the Year and holding ritual then whether solitary or group? As much as ritual is powerful and appropriate, it is but the tip of the iceberg. Many Pagans find trying to live in harmony with the Earth absolutely necessary to their commitment to their spirituality, their Gods, their community as humans. 

While I agree 100% with this there are things I think we need to do, be, remember. As part of nature remember who and what we share the Earth with. It is not just about humans. It is about everything on the Earth and respecting that. That means understanding the connectiveness of all things and how the web is formed. Everything depends upon other things, including us.  We eat and are eaten. Everything eats and is eaten. If someone chooses to be omnivorous, they still eat and eventually will be eaten. The same goes for vegetarians. The important thing is to be knowledgeable and respectful.

Photo by Pixabay on

Hmmm, as a teen I once asked my brother if rocks were sentient and he began to give me a lecture on the definition of sentience. I said that that was our definition, what about the rock’s? Yep, respect the balance of everything. Respect is the word.

Care for the environment is a Pagan requirement. Some of us are very active in this, but all of us can recycle, buy sustainably, compost, put our money where our mouths are. I am restricted as to my physical activities, but I can support certain charities or organizations even if it is just a little bit. Find ways to be a part of nature.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

I am a lousy gardener. I have the blackest thumb imaginable. I still like to try – although I’m not sure if the natural world appreciates it… but the action of preparing the soil (I have a wee little garden space in the front of the house who’s purpose seems to be to feed the deer, birds, and squirrels…). I like to get my hands in the dirt, clean it up. We buy plants at the nursery often because they look cool, and I plant them. I weed, water, talk, and sometimes I’m lucky and they grow and have a nice plant life. I don’t grow food any more. I kill things. The point of course is that I try and when I’m doing this, I am reaffirming my connection with this land that sustains me. I have always had plants in the house, too. I try and sometimes, something works. 

Photo by Gary Barnes on

I used to love camping as a child. I was lucky, my dad loved camping and it was not unusual form him to call Mom on a Friday afternoon and say pack the kids, we’re off. As we lived in Portland, that usually meant the coast (Cape Lookout was a favorite) or the mountains., but our all time favorite was Camp Creek in the Mt. Hood National Forest. It was just at the base of Mt. Hood and on the banks of the Zigzag River. We always stayed at the very last campsite right before the little pedestrian bridge that crossed the river. Dad was a tent guy so we always had the sounds of the river, the smells of the forest, and the freezing chill of the air around us. Frankly, I am not a very good camper, but I treasure the experience. I try to meditated every day, and I bring to my mind the glade in that forest with the magnificent Douglas Firs where I first knew on some level that I was Pagan. 

Photo by Mabel Amber on

I rarely get to a true forest these days – luckily I have trees all around me, but I can use my mind to be in that very special place. And that is also acknowledging that I am part of nature. Nature doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be something “out there”. It is us. How we honor that and honor nature is in our power. And as Wiccans, as Pagans, we are compelled todo just that.


Her Hagship

Musings from the Hag in the Woods

I have been musing on paths. When I was first learning about Wicca the word ‘path’ was often used. I didn’t really know what it referred to; it was not explained. I was intrigued and wanted desperately not just to know what was meant, but to be on it. I didn’t really understand that Wicca was a mystery religion/spirituality and that there were things I needed to figure out for myself. What was this Path? Who would teach me how to walk it? Where did it go? What did it mean? I wanted clear, precise answers. 

Not happening.

There were two things going on: Wicca was still mostly underground. People were at risk of losing jobs, custody, etc. if it was found that they were Wiccan or Pagan, so euphemisms were used. The other referred to the spiritual work that Wicca required one to do. So someone could say that they were on the Path and they simply meant that they were part of the Wiccan or Pagan community. I really wanted to be part of that community, but it was an unknown to me how to go about finding a way in. I eventually did, recognizing that it took a combination of work on my part and established members of a group to know and approach me. I eventually found myself in a group that was wonderful, but I was still not really walking the Path.

A Mystery Spirituality means that a good part of the interior and exterior work is not explained – it is not able to be explained, it must be felt or learned within one’s self. A priestess or priest in Ritual provided the space and working for a spiritual experience to occur between the Gods and someone on Circle. They do not intercede or do the work of a person on Circle. That’s a hard thing to learn or to do. When I first began to walk this Path, and I didn’t really understand that I was walking it, I couldn’t really understand that and automatically felt that I was a spectator in Ritual and the Officiants would do the work for me. To truly walk this Path – and I’m talking old style Wicca, not the strange thing that passes for Wicca today, you must let your shields down, make yourself vulnerable, lose your preconceptions, and experience. That is one part of the Path.

When I was learning the basics of Wicca, the Elements, the forms of Ritual, various Pantheons, I was creating the building blocks and form of both my own Path and the Path found within my Tradition. The Path winds before you (Wicca is not a straight Path). You stand there creating the sides and base of the Path, but there is no journey until you move, and everyone moves differently. This a good thing, but can contribute to confusion if you come from a tradition that tells you how to move and where to go.

As I progressed in my Work, I learned that there are many Paths. There is the Path of Witchcraft, spellwork, Ritual and the Priest/esshood, service, herbalism, divination, solitary, etc. I can remember walking down a physical Path at Fort Flagler for Spring Mysteries singing “The river is flowing…”. We were creating a beautiful Path of purpose and celebrating the beginning of our Festival and powerful Ritual Drama.

 All these are part of The Path. They flow and run, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always moving. And it is not one Path. It is as many as are in Wicca or Paganism or your Tradition. Each individual Path flowing around, over, under, on top of, under. I see it as a beautiful and amazing Celtic knot. It can also be a glorious tapestry, a shining woven rug, a maze. The important thing is that each strand is respected, honored, recognized. 

Our Path is what we make of it. It should always be ours. And a combination of choice, study, learning, experience, willingness to see other ways and perhaps “walk in their shoes”. Respect for other’s Paths is absolute. We may not choose to walk that Path or to be part of that tapestry, but we should always respect others right to choose. I find this sometimes very hard to do, but I find to be honest I must. This does not and never will mean acceptance of anything that causes harm to another. “An it harm none…”

I enjoy Page-a-Day calendars. My favorite is Ireland – I like seeing the places I’ve been. But last year I got one about Paths. There was a photo of a path with a quote on each page. The photos were lovely with some unbelievable paths above the sea, along raging streams, through lush forests and ancient gardens. You could imagine yourself walking on these paths, making them imaginary manifestations of your own path.

 I’ve kept many of the photos and plan to make my own book out of them. But I won’t buy the calendar again. The quotes were all over the place, some encouraging learning from different paths, others chiding one from the slightest variation of a specific path. It drove me nuts and made me think. One Path, never varying? Or being open to others to learn. I find I like a mix: have one’s own personal Path and journey, but experience others to learn and enjoy. Why not? 

The magic of a Path is what you will find and learn. Sometimes it’s straight and sometimes it’s twisty. It’s what you make of it and how you see it. Enjoy. And may the Gods be with you.

The Hag

Musings from the Hag in the Woods

by Rev. Deborah K. Hudson

Ah, musings… We are all allowed to muse – some profound, some silly, some insightful, some boring. I used to muse as the Mother Superior, but those days are long gone. Let me introduce myself. My name is Deborah Hudson. I am a Wiccan priestess, retired and withdrawn. I am an Elder and verily a hag (a good word for a lady of a certain age), I live surrounded by trees. Big trees. I was\ the High Priestess of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church for years before I assumed the position of Archpriestess which I held for more years.

I have MS. Multiple Sclerosis. Most of my symptoms are invisible. You would notice that I am wobbly, but probably put it down to age, not MS. My biggest issues are with my eyes and my facial nerves. MS can affect any nerve in the brain or central nervous system and everyone differently. We are all different. Anyway, my issues eventually caused me to back away from my duties, but after three surgeries, constant monitoring by multiple medical personnel, I feel ready to muse, so muse I will.

I used to muse about the Wheel of the year, but I want to muse about Wicca. I have been asked many times about both the definition of and the nature of Wicca. It seems people define it according to their own needs. TV and media producers see it as a woo woo, mysterious pseudo-religion, wait! Not a religion, a practice because it’s all abut the spells, the spooky Book of Shadows, the power. Unfortunately, this definition has found a real set of followers who have significantly eroded the spirit and soul of true Wicca.

Others define Wicca by a set of very precise rules. This is not a bad thing in terms of the spirituality for it acknowledges that Wicca is a Spirituality with a strong relationship between Gods and humans. it only becomes a negative when it focuses on the we/them thing and crosses the bounds into fundamentalism. Now, how do I define it? As a nature spirituality based on the pre-christian beliefs and culture of Europe. It recognizes a Goddess and God, the creative duality of nature and the world. It has a suggested set of ritual forms, guidelines, and practices. The most important of which are The Wiccan Rede and The Threefold Law (more later), it combines worship and spellwork.

Wicca has no pope, no board of elders or bishops, no other ruling body. It is very much an open way of worship. People can create what they want and call it Wicca.This, of course, is both good and bad. I am an old style Wiccan and have some strongly held opinions, but I also recognize that things change and must change.

She changes everything She touched, And everything She touches changes.

But within change the Rede and the Threefold Law remain. The Wiccan Rede (short version) status An it harm none, do what you will. Oh, a hard one! Think of “An” as “As long as”, so as long as it harms none, do what you will. No harming another person, living or not living thing, the earth, yourself. Think about it. An amazingly powerful dictum for ethical behavior. And the Law? Ok, who wants to throw power – any kind of power, thoughts, words, actions out there that is negative and will come back to bite you three times its power? Keeps you trying to be responsible, AND reinforces the Wiccan strong belief in one being responsible for on’s actions.

That being said, with the emergence of the strong LBGTQ+ community, Wicca has an opportunity to grow to truly serve this community. Wicca has always provided a safe place for people who for one reason or another do not find traditional religions fulfilling or accepting. The Wiccan belief in a Mother Goddess who accepts all without question, is very appealing. Accepting without question does not mean one forgoes the taking responsibility for one’s own actions which is a fundamental Wiccan precept. The rites and rituals of Wicca can be adjusted to allow for more diversity. I see this as a wonderfully creative opportunity for people. Perhaps a Wiccan Tradition (Wiccan Traditions are like sects of Wicca. The basics are the same [right! Define the basics!], but the rituals or other things may be different) can be built around a community that is more gender fluid. Frankly, I get excited just thinking of the possibilities.

Wicca can change and grow in other ways, too. While I think there should be a balance between spellwork and worship, perhaps there is room for creativity here as well. I do NOT think that focusing only on woo woo is Wicca. Wicca is a spirituality and that means a relationship with Spirit. And it is wise to be respectful of other religions/spiritualities. Norse deities are generally worshiped in Asatru, the Indian pantheon in Hindu , the Christian assembly in Christianity. I am not saying don’t do it, or it is wrong, I am saying be respectful, both of the pantheon and of the religions associated with them. Vodou has had a very powerful and respectful relationship with Christian saints for a very long time.

I am not sure where Wicca is headed and I recognize that the Wicca I have known and loved may be disappearing, but the beauty of this Spirituality that I have loved and lived has been and is a glory to me. it fills me with grace and my deepest joy is sharing that grace with you.

Imbolc and Candlemas: A Personal Journey

The famous quote by Thomas Wolfe “You can never go home again” can be interpreted in many ways. Nostalgia casts a warm glow on the past, and perhaps the old wounds can be forgotten. Things will not be the same. But if you go back knowing that you are different, and choosing to bring new meaning to things that were cast aside or left behind, it isn’t going home. It is creating a new home. 

Our Lady of Light

On Candlemas I chose to attend a Catholic mass for the first time in several decades. In my youth, I had a complicated relationship with the Church. I left and came back several times, trying to reconcile it with my changing views as I gained my independence. Things just didn’t work out. And when I fully embraced the Goddess, I realized that Mary had been that Divine Mother for me all along. 

Presenting the Divine Child

Jesus was just all right with me. I had J.C. Superstar and Godspell to inform my relationship with that Divine Son. Like, I said, it was the ‘70’s … he seemed like a pretty cool dude. But the Almighty Father was a lot like the other father figures in my life at that time. Distant. Never there when you wanted him to be. He would call once in great while, but there was never any real connection. 

St. Michael Church

So why did I decide to go to Mass on Candlemas night? My journey of Spirit has become richer and more complex over the years. In January of 2020 I became part of a spiritual family with roots in New Orleans, Sosyete Racine Dahomey. Our practice is Haitian Vodou. African Diaspora religions in the Caribbean, North and South America have close ties with Catholicism. Part of our practice includes working with the Ancestors, the majority of whom were Catholic in my case. The Saints are part of our practice as well. 

Ancestor’s Candle lit from the Candlemas flame

This local church was not a grand cathedral. It was a Wednesday night so I figured that Mass would be lightly attended. I had been to a midnight Mass there once a very long time ago so it wasn’t completely new to me. Remembering that the Mass was in Spanish that night, I hoped that tonight might be the same. The parking lot was surprisingly full when I arrived, and I got a little nervous, but got up my nerve and went in.  

As it turned out, it was a candlelight Mass … of course it was! Not only that, Mass was celebrated in English, Spanish, AND Latin. We all lit our candles and processed into the sanctuary. Hearing Agnus Dei sung in Latin was magical. Candlemas is 40 days after Christmas, when the Divine Child and Mother went to the temple to be purified. The Child is also then recognized as The Light of the World. In context for me, the universal meanings of this idea reach far beyond the Church. 

My statue of Mary & my Grandmother’s rosary

I celebrated the Child of Light and the Divine Mother. I honored the Ancestors, St. Brigid, and Mama Brigitte. I celebrated the uniting of my past and my future. I felt like I found a home within myself. A new home connected with an old one. The circle is complete and unbroken, and the Wheel turns again.

Bright Candlemas and Imbolc blessings abound!

Rev. Katherine Bonnabel

Blessed Samhain Eve

The Ancient Celtic Otherworld

First Appeared in Ripples, The Quarterly Journal of Shining Lakes Grove, Yule, 1995.

Few areas of Celtic lore are more confused by the ravages of time and cultural intrusion than the phenomena of death and the afterlife. The coming of the new Christian faith to Northern Europe signaled a radical change in our traditional understanding of death and rebirth as new characters and biblical theology were superimposed on aboriginal mythology. This hybridization of belief systems created a uniquely Celtic Christianity that, while greatly enhanced by popular folk belief, was in many ways very different from our pre-Christian understanding of the world.

Much of the thinking that resulted from this course of events has been passed down through the centuries to us in folk tales and continues to distort our views of ancient cosmology today. Many of these ideas even continue to be upheld and promoted by modern Neopagan lore as tales are retold and studied for use in revivalist movements. To gain a clearer understanding of our cosmological heritage we must attempt to identify and remove these external influences of late history to reveal a functional and internally consistent world view. While we can not hold out much hope for a truly precise picture of our ancestors’ beliefs, these efforts will carry us much closer to that goal.

The Myth of the Sidhe Gods

The Gods and Goddesses of our ancestors were seen as very powerful. They existed in this world and could move freely between the realms. They were intimately tied to the activities of the world and had an active role in daily events. Many were involved directly in the very cycles upon which life depended.

When Christianity came to the fore people slowly adapted their understanding of these older deities to the new faith. A theology developed to explain the deities’ loss of power to the Christians God which described them as being defeated and relegated to the margins of the world. This belief was a continuation of our traditional view of supernatural relegation. The Celtic Deities were forced to live underground in the same way that they had once forced older pre-Celtic Gods to move out into the Sea.

Today the myths that have been passed through time to us contain stories of how the Gods were forced to live beneath the ground in caves and burial mounds. They began to be referred to as the Sidhe from the Gaelic term for under the hill . Stories abound of fantastic underworld palaces where the former Gods, in diminished form, host marvelous banquets for the dead and heroes of old. These themes are repeated in other tales which picture these palaces as hostels or bruidhen. These accounts have contributed much confusion to a clear understanding of ancient cosmology as they unjustly cast most of the major Irish deities in the role of the Celtic Otherworld God.

As the Christian view of the sinister nature of death and the Otherworld took hold, attitudes toward the old Gods became rooted in suspicion and fear. In late times our view of the Gods became so diminished that they began to be thought of as fairies, sprites, elves, dwarves, etc. These characters maintained their sinister and dangerous nature until recent times when the New Age movement and modern Disney stories turned them into cute but inconsequential playthings.

The Schizophrenic Horned Man

A very popular figure in modern day Neopaganism is the horned man, often given the name Cernunnos taken from a single inscription in Gaul. This modern horned man is a strange mixture of a number of ancient deities from Pan through the Green Man through Hermes through Arawn to Gwyn ap Nudd created through the syncretic power of Wiccan theology. He is seen as a representation of the wild and lusty force of nature while at the same time embodying a sinister otherworldly soul hunter character.

I believe that some of the content of this deity is the result of the collision of the ancient Welsh Otherworld God Arawn with the Christian Devil which occurred as Annwn slowly became synonymous with the Christian Hell. Other portions come from Gwyn ap Nudd, who was once a Welsh hunter God but later became the leader of the wild hunt where the forces of chaos and evil roamed the countryside seeking lone travelers for the opportunity to snatch their souls.

As the aboriginal view of death as a natural passage in the never-ending cycle of life was overtaken by Christian concepts, the previously benevolent Otherworld God took on the sinister and fearful characteristics of a demon. The festival of Samhain slowly turned from a respectful honoring of those who had passed beyond into a time to hide in our homes for fear of having our souls snatched away. Tales that once told us how to welcome the honored dead into our homes were reversed to teach us how to protect ourselves from them and bar them from our doors.

The horned man is indeed one of oldest known deities of Western Europe. But far from being a soul snatching Death God he was the protector of animals and the forest creatures. He was intimately connected with the deeply spiritual, but hardly sinister, activity of hunting and was honored widely as vital to the delicate dance of life. In this original form he is a very appropriate deity for our modern movement at a time when environmentalism is practically a spiritual imperative.

The Sea God King of the Otherworld

The ancient Celtic Otherworld had little to do with the underground. In fact, it is more readily identified on the horizontal plane as outward from the center rather than downward. It was associated strongly with the sea, and for this reason occupies a place as a realm in the triad of land, sea and sky. The dead are envisioned as living on beautiful islands or in magical lands under the surface of the waves.

The Otherworld is a happy place of peace and harmony, an idealized mirror image of this world. There is no pain, sickness or aging as the dead enjoy beautiful music and endless banquets of delight. The heroes of the ages entertain themselves with all sort of sports and good-natured athletic competitions as all await their time of return to this world.

The king and host of this wondrous realm is a Sea God. For Shining Lakes Grove he has been identified as Manannan mac Lir. His functional equivalent in the Welsh pantheon is the God Arawn. Both of them are far from demonic characters. Manannan is a wise and gracious host who has many wondrous abilities and possessions such as magical horses who can stride on the surface of the ocean, a cloak of invisibility and magical pigs.

Other Otherworldly Characters and Concepts

The Irish Celts have a tale of the first mortal ever to die. Just prior to their landfall upon Ireland, the sons of Mil are stricken by a mishap. One of their number, a fellow named Donn is drowned by the Goddess Eriu after he insults her. From this point on he appears in the tales as the keeper of the first guidepost on the journey to the Otherworld. The dead were believed to have briefly visited or passed by his house just after the moment of death. This house is located on an island off the coast of Ireland called TechnDuinn or House of Donn. This tale is undoubtedly of ancient origin as it is present in other forms in the larger body of Indo-European lore such as the Vedic Yama.

The battle hags of Celtic lore are closely associated with death. They are often seen transformed into ravens who hang around battlefields to feast on the gory remains. They are closely associated with the destiny of warriors and are usually triple Goddesses. Examples are Badbh, Nemhain, Macha and the Morrigan. They do not, however, seem to have anything to do with the realm of the dead itself and rather are mostly concerned with the moment of loss of life and possibly transportation of the soul to that realm.

There are also female characters who can be more readily seen as Goddesses of the Otherworld. They are generally very beautiful women who have great regenerative and healing powers. They are strongly associated with swans or songbirds with beautiful plumage and magical voices. The Goddesses often have the ability to transform themselves into the form of these birds. Examples of these Goddesses are Fand, Be Lind, Fi Band, Naiv, Rhiannon and probably Epona. In later tales they were seen as enchantresses who lured heroes into Otherworld adventures.

Living mortals also occasionally entered the Otherworld. A large number of the tales that have been passed down to us concern mortal adventures into the Otherworld and encounters with its inhabitants. Bold heroes such as Pwyll, Cu Chulainn, Bran, Finn and Conaire all found or fell upon a way to transgress the boundary between the worlds. These tales provide a wealth of knowledge about the nature of the Otherworld while pointing the way for modern practitioners to access and explore this realm. This is particularly true of those tales surrounding the God Manannan mac Lir.

A final character that should be mentioned is the Otherworldly dog or hound. As with many of the Indo-European people, the Celts also had such beasts in their mythology. Kings of the Otherworld such as Manannan and Arawn had special dogs which were red and white or speckled in appearance. They served their masters as hunting dogs or guard gods. When they were viewed by mortals they were seen as omens of impending death.

Conclusions for Neopagan Theology

Through the careful study and adoption of the principals outlined above we will be able to cultivate an understanding of death and the Otherworld that is much closer to that of our ancestors. The concept of the Otherworld as a peaceful and benevolent respite has important implications to our funerary and worship practices while permitting us to evolve a much more balanced and less-fearful approach to the journey beyond the veil.

The understanding of the genealogy of the Sidhe God tales is particularly important to our revival of faith in the old Gods. The fact that these Gods have been freed from their underground prisons to rule the world again has great power to bring them into our lives and show us their relevance to the interworkings of life. As we have begun to learn in Shining Lakes Grove this belief that the Gods can be once again seen and felt in nature around us has great power to intimately connect our acts of love and worship to the ever changing force of life around us.