Chasing the Rainbow

One of the benefits of living in this area is that there’s a huge Irish culture here. I’ve even read there’s a pub in my neighborhood where one can hear Irish Gaelic spoken by old men. (I went and didn’t hear it, but then old men speaking in thick brogues after a few pints could conceivably sound like Irish to an American ear such as mine.)

Since I’ve been worshipping Brigid, I figured I would learn Irish myself. I tried doing this in the 90s. Picked up a few books, language tapes, and the like. But I felt as if I needed both the discipline of a classroom setting and also being able to interact with an instructor when I have questions. Particularly when it came to the spelling and pronunciation of words.

So fortunate as I am, I’ve found a language class that meets on one of my evenings off.

I feel, in a sense, that I’ve been down this path before.

I started off, as most Pagans do, as Wiccan. It was the thing I first learned about. Eventually, when I realized it was cobbled together by Gardner, I gravitated towards “Celtic” stuff.

This was right as Celtic stuff was becoming very popular. DJ Conway had “Celtic Wicca” out. Edain McCoy put out her terrible “Witta: An Irish Pagan Tradition” and Kisma Stepanich had her “Fairy Wicca” which was supposed have something to do with ancient Irish beliefs but was also bullshit.

Enya and Clannad were popular. Riverdance was hitting big. Loreena McKennitt was transitioning from Celtic artist to more broader world music influences.

I was a young impressionable Pagan but I also was developing a great bullshit detector. I was able to find some decent books on ancient Celtic religion. Anne Ross, the Rees brothers’ “Celtic Heritage”. A few others. (I was fortunate and had a very good used bookstore near me.)

I also ended up going to college near a guy who was with ADF (A’rn Draiocht Fein) and picked up some “Druid” stuff there. Still, my worship was heartfelt but cobbled together by Wicca, ADF druidry, and whatever else I could find.

For me, being a young naive 20-something, it was a search for identity.

I have a “Mc” in my surname and have been told all of my life that I was “Irish”. Sure, now I know that it’s short for “Irish-American” but back then, I identified as “Irish”.

When I was a kid, my father would hang his green “Erin Go Bragh” flag up every year on St. Patrick’s Day. He’d dust off his Irish albums. The Chieftains, The Wolfe Tones, The Clancy Brothers.  One year, he took my brother and I out of school for the day and we took the trip to NYC to see the St. Patrick’s Day Parade with him and my grandmother.

From that, I learned to see Irishness as something special. When I discovered there was such a thing as Paganism, naturally I was interested in learning about this aspect of my heritage.

It wasn’t until I went to Ireland on pilgrimage for three weeks in 1997 that I realized just how American I was, and just how Irish I wasn’t.

I’d had a wonderful time and met some amazing folks. Even some local Pagans. I got personal tours of ancient Celtic and pre-Celtic sites. It was incredible…but I’d idealized Ireland and Irishness and identified with it. It turned out that I was just another Yank. (I should say here that my family, to my knowledge, came to America during the Famine, so I didn’t have family over there or a living connection.)

I was shocked by the dissolution of my idealization of Ireland, by my own naivete, and it caused me to turn away from all things Irish (other than Irish folk music for which I have a deep love. Especially Luke Kelly and the Dubliners!)

I turned away from Celtic Paganism, from worship of Brigid, from “Druidry”, and all of it.

And now, I’m coming back to it. Older. More experienced.

I’m not doing this to connect with my heritage. My ancestors are here in America, mostly.  I’m doing it because I have a genuine interest in ancient Irish religion. I’m doing it because I’m interested in Brigid.

When I came back to Paganism a few years ago, after some time away, my first real experience was going to PantheaCon and visiting the Temple of the Morrigan (by Coru Cathubodua). I felt something there and I haven’t been able to let go of that.

Paganism, to me, had been a lifestyle. It was a very pleasant one. I met great people. We did rituals. We talked about gods and goddesses and it was all very enjoyable. What experiencing these deities felt like, though, was religion. And it touched something in me, a desire, to know and to be known, by one of these fascinating, ancient, incomprehensible beings.

~ by R.M. McGrath on 12/12/2016.

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