When my Lady Called me to Her service I had very little knowledge about anything outside of Protestant Christianity. Once She introduced Herself I started doing my research. The first resources I stumbled across were Wicca 101 books, and while those were helpful in one sense they didn’t speak directly to my experience. I started working with a local Pagan group and interacting with the larger community, and while that too was useful and interesting I still felt a certain disconnect. *shrug* I’ve always been oriented more towards devotional work than magick, and that was not the case with most of the other Pagans I knew. It still seems to be something underemphasized in general Paganism (and is why I self-identify as a polytheist these days).
Anyway, I formally dedicated myself to a novitiate with my Lady (five years after She showed up!) and started getting lessons that directly contradicted what I was reading. After a bit of personal tumult I decided to trust what I was being taught, disregarded the idea that I was nuts, and completely stopped using sources aimed at the Pagan market to allow me to focus. I did this for years, shifting away from standard Paganism to an almost exclusively devotional polytheistic practice that felt much more natural. Once I felt pretty solid with that I again began interacting with the community, and discovered that while I was away Celtic Reconstructionists had been figuring out a lot of the same information. If I had needed further validation of my Lady and my lack of crazy this would have provided it! My information isn’t the same as theirs on all particulars, of course, but there are quite a few overlaps. Two aspects of my personal practice that particularly emphasize this are the Elements and the Kindreds.
Pagans typically use the old Greek elemental system – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water – plus Spirit as a way to categorize and classify the world. That’s one of the major meanings associated with the pentacle. It’s used to classify everything – phases of life, times of year, stones, deities, plants, you name it.
I’ve heard all kinds of reasons for using this division (mainly traditional), but it just doesn’t gel for me.
First I looked at the four classical elements and realized I had a problem.
Let’s say I took four space capsules, filled them each with one of the elements, and entered a theoretical realm where these capsules would be absolutely unaffected by anything else. Earth would stay Earth. It would maintain itself indefinitely. Water and Air? The same. But Fire is, by definition, different. Fire lives. It is born, grows and eats and excretes, and it eventually dies. In addition, it is Fire that warms the Earth for the seeds to grow, that births and eats the land. It is Fire that circulates the Waters, by warming the sea and creating currents. It does the same for Air, heat creating wind and weather. By living, Fire gives life to the other elements too. This led to a very different way of relating to these elements. (And if nothing else, ritual fires were finally able to be lit in my presence without my having to leave the area first! I used to have the hardest time with that.)
With this redefinition I realized that adding Spirit to the elemental structure made no sense. Originally people saw the four classical elements as static and unchanging, so Spirit became that which not only bound the elements together but introduced movement and change to the system and allowed growth. But Fire does that, by its nature, so why the division? After trying to make it work for awhile I just gave up and ditched Spirit as a category altogether. That brought me to where I am today.
Later I found out that modern Celts typically refer to what I call the Eternals as the Three Realms of Land, Sea, and Sky. That sounds much more poetic and reflects more of the meanings I associate with them, so I’ve adopted the terminology.
As I worked with my “three-and-one” system I started making other connections with the concepts. My perspectives and views aren’t identical to that found in modern CR stuff, but again there are a lot of similarities!
Fire represents life. It also represents the soul, that part of us which lives on even after the body has died. The soul has an unimaginable amount of potential bundled up inside of it, and we spend innumerable lifetimes trying to realize all of it. When you watch Fire you watch it striving to reach the heavens. It eats that which has passed its usefulness and paves the way for new growth. It purifies, cleanses, and transforms. It also illuminates that which is hidden. All of those qualities were apparent when I looked at the process of spiritual and magickal work. It makes total sense to me that Fire represents Life, and also the Soul and its drive to realize its potential.
If Fire is the soul, then it logically follows that the Eternals are related to other aspects of the self. Those were fairly easy connections to make – Land/Body/Physicality, Sea/Blood/Emotions, Air/Breath/Mentality. Balance is emphasized here, too – the Soul can only thrive when the other aspects of the Self are balanced. Too much emphasis on one area of life throws everything out of balance, and the Soul is either smothered or rages unchecked.
I have also learned that we humans are not the only entities around.
Over the years of working with my Lady I’ve either been introduced to or discovered various other entities. As I started forming relationships to them individually I started loosely classifying them, and after awhile I realized that those classifications fit right in with the above. Yay for cohesion!
The Land beneath our feet is also the realm of the land spirits/Fae/Sidhe/landwights/etc. Those who dwell here are somewhat stationary – they rarely leave their territories (although the scope of a territory can vary widely) – and their connection to Land/Physicality means that their function is to maintain the boundary between “that which is physical” and “that which is not”. Not only does the Land nurture that which is necessary to maintain physical health and wellness (like food, water, and shelter), it also stores an easily-accessed and used form of energy on which we as magickal practitioners often depend. These spirits are the ones who maintain, stabilize, and cycle that energy around. They might be limited by physical location, but within their territories they can be awesomely powerful. Land spirits are generous, but like anyone else they are more inclined to help those with whom they have friendly reciprocal relationships. Considering all the ways they can help us it behooves us to be friendly!
The Sea that surrounds us is also the realm of the Ancestors, those linked to us by the blood in our veins. And since science has shown that if you go far enough back all people are descended from common ancestors, it is blood that links us to every human being ever. Ancestors connect us to other people. They teach us the meaning of time and cycles, encourage and celebrate rites of passage with us, help us maintain traditions and relationships, and give us a common history. The strength of the Ancestors is that they were once human too, and tend to understand us better than the other types of entities. Their ability to help varies based on a wide variety of factors, but even a little assistance can go a long way if it is used wisely and with care. If I need help with totally mundane things, especially things involving other people, Ancestors are the first ones I ask for assistance.
The Sky is the realm of the gods. Deities are the most we can perceive of the goal we’re trying to reach – that of total soul realization. They have probed the unknown, have learned far more than we have, and have correspondingly wider vision than we do. However, they don’t know everything. The breadth of their vision sometimes makes smaller details harder for deities to see (which is where Ancestors excel – see the balance?). They are still working on their own realization, even as we are. Nothing is stagnant, not even the gods, and they too grow and change. That of course means that they can be wrong. Ultimately we are responsible for our own soul’s growth, and that gives us the right and responsibility to question them if/when it becomes necessary. Ideally, they guide us in such a way that our soul’s ability to realize its own potential is enhanced.
Collectively these entities – the Land, the Ancestors, and the Gods – are known as the Kindreds. Pretty handy word!
All three of these realms are equally important. On a personal level all three realms, in balance, are what allow our souls to grow and flourish. Too much focus on one area deprives us of the others and retards our soul growth. We can’t continually rape the earth and expect health and vitality. We can’t abandon our traditions and our heritage and expect to maintain our connections to other people. We can’t disregard the gods and expect to know where we’re going. We need all of these things to realize our full potential.
And isn’t that kinda the point of everything anyway?