The course of my lifelong spiritual path of Irish and Scottish Polytheism took root in early childhood. The James River flows through the heart of the city where I was born, Richmond, Virginia. I lived there the first decade of my life. Time with my father was often out in the woods, along the banks of the river, canoeing, swimming, and fishing its waters, on nature walks and camping trips, drawing charcoal pictographs on the rocks that ringed our campfires, chewing rabbit tobacco, and collecting sticks and rocks (much to my mother's chagrin). I was a child o' the woods, more content in the shade of a tree than in the mall. I felt safe and free in Nature, without judgment. But Nature is also an unforgiving teacher. One learns quickly that mistakes and missteps in the wild are met with sickness, injury, or death. But observation and respect are rewarded with an expanded awareness, confidence, and an ecological sense of community. One is never alone in Nature. The river and woods was, and still is, my sanctuary. Nature can be a source of strength, peace, and inspiration. In Gaelic tradition, Nature is the bridge, the connector between the human and spirit worlds, the wellspring from which flows our direct experience of the Divine, our nourishment and sustainer. Nature is the “great awakener”. I intuitively sensed this as a child before I had the vocabulary to articulate it.
Now, in my late 40's, even though I still currently reside in the city, my relationship with Nature has only deepened over the years alongside my practice and understanding of Gaelic spirituality. When folks engage my counsel on how they can begin to practice this, one of the foundations I recommend is to take Nature walks. When a friend confides that they've been feeling ungrounded or out of sorts, I ask them: "When was the last time you were out in Nature?" There is a new and growing body of scientific research that supports the spiritual concept of sacred landscape. Being in Nature, especially among trees, can help lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, alleviate anxiety and increase creative flow. Nature Deficit Disorder is a term referring to behavioral problems resulting from a lack of connection with Nature. It is becoming more common for counselors to prescribe time in Nature for its healing and restorative effects. We must have our “Vitamin N”. Irish poet, philosopher, and mystic, John O'Donohue said: "Different forms of landscape inhabit different forms of perception." And so our relationships with different environments take on different shapes. We intuitively know this, as we react and feel differently in response to a variety of landscapes. Different places have their own unique terroir, sound, sights, smells, feeling, and rhythm. In everyday devotional practice of Gaelic Polytheism, lore and custom bears out many ways to attune with and maintain connections with Nature and natural forces within the land. One is through poetry, songs, and incantations or charms that ritually reaffirm our place and kinship with Nature. I share below part of my Morning Devotional. The first selection is a protective charm called "The Deer's Cry", apocryphally attributed to St. Patrick, and the second is my personalized version of the “Song of Amergin”, an invocation calling upon the spirit of the land for strength, courage, power, affirmation of oneness. I encourage you to meditate upon these charms from Gaelic tradition, and personalize their imagery to make them relevant for you if their traditional forms do not resonate. In this way, you are helping to keep the spirit of Gaelic Polytheism alive and evolving..
"The Deer's Cry"
I arise today Through strength and light of sun Radiance of moon And splendor of fire Speed of lightning And swiftness of wind Depth of sea Foundation of earth And firmness of rock ***
"The Song of the Land" I am the sound of the rain I am the quickening wind I am the flow of the river I am the silver dew of the moon I am the golden beam of the sun I am the bird singing in joy I am the heron in stillness I am the salmon in the stream I am the nourishing tree I shape the fires of inspiration Who clears the way of obstacles? Who shines the light of wisdom? Who graces the heart with peace? Who reveals divine beauty? The clear word of Truth. *** And here is a particularly lovely version of a Gaelic charm, adapted by John O'Donohue: May the nourishment of the earth be yours May the fluency of the ocean be yours May the clarity of light be yours May the protection of the ancestors be yours And so may a slow wind weave these words of love around you An invisible cloak to mind your life *** Beannachtaí, ~ Erika "Rhona" Rivertree