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The Shieldmaiden Blog

Sep - 13

Day One

The breaths come longer and longer as my heartbeat gradually calms down from the spear workout. I try to still myself, open my ribs, lengthen my spine, focus on the breath. Rising and falling. Sid co nem, nem co doman. I notice my posture and lift my spine a little more. In and out, rising and falling. Sid co nem, nem co doman. I feel the tightness in my biceps and shoulders from the spear work. I hear crows jabbering outside the open window, the neighbor’s dog squeaking. In and out, sid co nem, nem co doman. My housemate clinks her tea mug downstairs, the kettle hisses. In and out, sid co nem, nem co doman. I realize my attention has been everywhere but within. I return with the breath. Sid co nem, nem co doman. Stillness begins to settle around me. Somewhere inside the back of my brain, I feel Her presence awaken. I remember what I love about devotional mediation. And now I’m off again, thinking about meditation instead of meditating. Back to the breath, the sensation of the body, sitting, breathing, my spine a long spear, my belly a sweet cauldron, the breath rising, the breath falling. Sid co nem, nem co doman. Sid co nem, nem co doman.

Today I re-started my daily practice. I have to do this all the time, because I’m actually terrible at it. I love ritual, and I do it often, but I’m terrible at keeping to a daily, disciplined practice routine. Readers who don’t know me well might imagine that as a fighter, a spiritual teacher and a dedicated priestess of the Morrígan, I must have a thorough and disciplined daily practice that I never miss. Yes, I do have a daily practice, but I have to work as hard as anybody at actually doing it every day. I think this is true for a lot of people: daily practice is kind of like balancing on a rope. You’re almost never standing in perfect grace; instead, you’re constantly correcting back toward center from the myriad of forces that constantly push and sway you off balance. Maybe sometimes you fall off the rope altogether and have to take a break. If you do it for long enough, the corrections you have to make come smaller and easier, and maybe you aren’t falling off any more.

I’m inspired to write about this today in part because I happen to be climbing back on my rope today. And also there have been a couple of good posts elsewhere about the benefits of discipline, and about how sometimes it’s a battle just to sit still.

I’m climbing back on my rope again. I do it all the time. Around Lughnassadh, I made a devotional commitment to physical, spiritual and creative practice. I promised to complete a century drill (weapons practice of 100 blows a day, for 100 days, and if a day is missed, you begin again at one); to do daily offerings each day of the century drill; and to dedicate a day a week to writing my book. I swore an oath to the Morrígan and Lugh that I’d complete this. And if I was perfect in my practice, I would be at day 52 today. Instead, I am at day one. A couple weeks ago I was called off on short notice to fly across the country and priestess a funeral, and in the whirlwind of the trip I dropped routine, and have only been intermittent with my practice since I returned.

Am I disappointed? Am I kicking myself? No. Frustration with yourself is just another indulgence – just another distraction from the practice. Just as in meditation, when you notice your mind wandering, you simply let it go and return to the breath. My oath was to return to practice if I let it drop, and to keep returning. So that is what I’m doing. Back to the rhythm. Back to the breath. Hello, century drill. Hello, day one. Here is an opportunity to reorient myself to my practice, and to reorient my practice to my life. To renew my practice.

So I’m looking at all the pieces, putting the elements of daily practice together in a different pattern. Here are the elements of my daily practice. One example of what a Morrígan dedicant’s daily practice could look like.

Devotions. My core devotions usually consist of lighting a candle and pouring out a liquid offering. I dedicate the offerings to the Morrígan, to the Ancestors, and to my spirit allies. Sometimes I include other deities. On days when I’m at home working on art, I will usually do an offering to Brigid also. If I’ve had the time to think ahead, I may offer something like whiskey and cream, or Irish Cream, or beer. Sometimes I’m just offering whatever I have, even if it’s water, or part of my meal. Sometimes there are more intensive offerings.

On days when I have more time or a specific need, I’ll follow the offerings with prayers or liturgies. The liturgy I use most commonly is the Morrígan’s Prophecy, also known as the Benediction, which I intone aloud in the Old Irish. Other days, I simply speak Her name. On days when I’m doing full ritual, core devotions will just be the start of a longer working.

Meditation. I have a set of prayer beads that I made for meditation centered around my devotion to the Morrígan, so they are set up in counts of three, nine to the string, which gives me 27. If I go through them three times, I’ve done 9×9 rounds of whatever meditation I’m doing. I like the prayer bead method because it stops me wondering how long I’ve been meditating – the beads will tell me. It also gives my body one little thing to do, that tiny regular motion of advancing the beads through my fingers.

The meditation I most often use is a prayer meditation using lines in Old Irish from the Morrígan’s Prophecy: Sid co nem, nem co doman. (Translation: “Peace to the sky, sky down to earth.” It is pronounced something like ‘sheeth co nev, nev co dovan’.) For me, having something to chant internally occupies my Talking Self, which helps me to become distracted less often. I usually chant the prayer internally, with the breath in a slow rhythm: inhaling sid co nem, exhaling nem co doman. This is one count of my prayer beads.

Physical. My minimum physical practice is the century drill: 100 blows of spear and/or sword practice. If I’m at home, I’ll do them full strength against my pell (practice dummy). If I’m somewhere else, I may do them slow, just practicing for form. Weekly, I also go to fighter practice and fight in full armor. Biweekly, I try to make it to a yoga class.

When I have days at home with time for extra physical practice, I will add practices: spear movement exercises, yoga, sit-ups and push-ups, or dance practice.

You might be thinking, how the hell do you have time for all of this? Most of the time, I don’t. I have a minimum daily practice for the days when I’m working 8-10 hours in the tattoo shop and barely have a moment to myself. On the days when I’m working from home and have more flexibility, I aim for a more expanded practice.

So getting back on my rope today, putting the elements back together, here is what I’m doing now. Minimum daily practice, for workdays: Morning, century drill (about 10 minutes), followed by brief meditation (one round of prayer beads, about 5-10 minutes). If I miss my morning practice, the drill happens first thing when I get home. Evening offerings before bed.

Expanded daily practice, for home days: Morning, yoga/movement practice, century drill, devotions, full meditation (at least 3 rounds of prayer beads). Evening, offerings and prayers; on some nights, yoga class, fighter practice or full ritual as needed.

Hello, day one. It’s good to begin again.

What’s your practice?

11 comments on Day One

  1. Axiom says:

    I would like to echo everyone else’s gratitude for this post. I really liked the part about your oath, and about starting your practice over when you did not meet your daily practice goal. It helps to both see how the oath itself is constructed for an imperfect being (e.g., it has the “if I miss a day, I start over” clause), and how this works in practice. How you simply start again, renew your commitment.

    I imagine it will feel amazing when you reach day 100! But I can also see how even if you are at day 1 again, how the entire body of this challenge makes for a good devotional act. Just putting yourself to the challenge; to start over and over as many times as you must even if it takes you a year or more to finally reach that 100th day. The fact that you keep trying seems like as much a part of the devotion as will the final 100 days that you eventually keep a consecutive daily practice going. You really frame that persistence well.

    As someone who isn’t devoted to any deity yet, I think I would have assumed that if you make an oath like that, you have to do it perfectly. And then, if you fail, you beat yourself up, apologize a lot, and think carefully about ever making those kinds of oaths ever again. What you model here seems much, much healthier. :)

    So, this makes two for two on posts I’ve read of yours that have been really helpful and thought-provoking. Thank you. (I think I may hang around!)

  2. This is a good post!

    I am rolling myself back into a daily sitting practice. Every night before bed, I sit. Sometimes I meditate, sometimes it’s something more like energy work- blue fire, tree work, etc.

    Every day I give offerings and thanks at my spirit altar. Rum, wine, flowers, cream, nuts, smoke…

    I find that I do well with a variant of thoughts based upon Dan John’s book Intervention for the physical stuff…understanding that my methods must match my goals, and that the long road is the only road…helps with keeping sane, and uninjured!


  3. Alioth says:

    As others have done, I want to thank you for this post. It struck a deep chord with me — particularly the part about not kicking yourself (which I’m sure is easier said than done!). And, as you say, it’s easy to get the impression that everyone else, especially those who are semi-public figures or seem impressive in other ways, have the most rigorous, perfect, time-consuming practice, which they perform without fail every day. “Nobody’s perfect” sounds like a platitude because it’s true.

  4. Migdalit says:

    Thank you for this post it made me feel a little less ashamed about my very patchy practice.

    Whilst I have never aspired to any kind of daily practice I am making the commitment of being more serious about my Iaidô practice way too often – usually committing to an hour of katas and strikes every other day or twice a week. I normally don’t last more than a month though. It is really quite disheartening and right now I’m struggling against the feeling of defeat and “why do I even bother?”

    I find it a lot easier when you can be part of any kind of martial arts group that meets at a set time – it’s too easy to make up excuses when it’s just you alone on your terrace and it looks like noone will ever know. When I was living less remote I was really good about going to whatever I practiced at the time twice a week and probably even squeeze some practice in between lessons but out here I find I am having a really hard time to get any practice done at all.

    Thus while there isn’t much martian arts I am even remotely interested in around here I have at least joined a volleyball team. It may not be anything martial art-y but it still keeps my body in some kind of shape (mind you I have never been that muscular, strong warrior type anyway) and I am good at going there once a week because I feel committed to the team. I’ve also recently returned to Krav Maga driving over a hundred kms every other week to take part in training and while I feel bad about the petrol used up and the CO poisoning the air just for a 1-hour training session I figure maybe this is a little luxury I need to do for myself.

  5. Dan says:

    Its good to read about what other people are doing, and to see that its not unusual to be fighting to stay up on the metaphorical horse.

    I’m new to devotional practice, so its been changing a lot. If I give myself a good enough start in the morning, I like to begin with a shower to cleanse myself from the skin out. Then, I’ll get dressed for work. Daily devotionals will begin in the kitchen, where I have a small shrine to Brighid set up over the stove. I’ll light a candle for Her, sing a prayer, and leave an offering of milk, sometimes with a pat of Kerrygold, or if I have it, rosemary bread.

    Next, I like to do a similar prayer and offering for Freyja. This will be a kneeling prayer at Her altar, accompanied by the lighting of a specially-scented candle. If I have wine or herring in the house, I’ll leave some as an offering to Her.

    At work, I have a framed picture of Brighid on my desk to help keep her in my mind, and to invite that creative desire to learn into my life. If I’m working from my home office, I have a mini shrine on my desk with a candle I can keep lit.

    As you can see, this is a lot, and certainly a lot to get done before work, so it should come as no surprise that it gets dropped more often than not. I’m constantly trying to modify my devotional practice to better fit my schedule, and to get back on the horse.

  6. Mikey says:

    What a timely and refreshing post!

    I think on some level we are always returning to the beginning of our practice. Each time we kneel before the altar or light our candles, we are starting again. Okay, we may be starting from a place of more commitment or integration, but the principle is the same.

    I wrote a blogpost a while back on how I structure my daily practice around the elements:

  7. The minimum practice I do each day is a purification when I bathe in the morning, followed by the Two Powers Meditation (an ADF meditation similar to the Tree of Life grounding exercise) and reciting my Dedicant Oath, usually after getting dressed. Monday to Friday, when I begin work for the day, I also light a candle to Lugos at and dedicate my day’s work to him. At the weekends, when I’m not in the office, I spend some time walking in nature and do some work on the ADF Dedicant Program (and when I finish that, it will be another ADF study program of one kind or another.)

    If I have more time in the morning, I also recite prayers and make offerings to the ancestors and land spirits, meditate on the names of the deities I work with, and recite a shielding charm. In the evening, when I cook the evening meal, I light a candle to the Matrones and dedicate my domestic work to them.

    At bedtime, if I’m not completely exhausted, I make more offerings, recite prayers to my patrons (Lugh and Bodua), make any personal prayer requests, and meditate again.

    I go through times when it all happens every day and times when only the minimum happens. The last few weeks have been the latter, but I’m hoping to get back to doing more this weekend and next week.

  8. christine l berger says:

    Morpheus, I have to thank you for this post. I am laughing now, because I just remembered another whole practice I do in my car driving to work. I guess I cannot remember everything I do, which is good, it means a lot of it is ingrained now. But your post was timely and changed the vibe of what was a very frustrating and stressful day at work. For that I am grateful, and for the gift of remembering where my alignment lies. :)

  9. christine l berger says:

    I forgot one step in the morning and only want to note it because it is important. After yoga I do the LBR and Dedicate the Merit.

  10. christine l berger says:

    daily practice: morning – waking in bed – 1. self reikie for face and head 2. align three physical, fetch, shining and sacred 3. do healing sounds

    Go do yoga – since I am rebuilding my strength here after the set back of the Hep C treatments, I am working at daily 20 minutes

    Offerings to Hermes and company of fire and poetry/invocations = four Gods daily with special offerings on Wednesdays and Saturdays to include two other God/Goddesses and special for Hermes.

    Off to work.

    I am rebuilding the evening practice. Walk in the door and light candle for Loki, which burns whenever I am home.

    My best practice is to meditate as soon as I come home. I have been procrastinating. If I do not do it when I first come home then it ends up at the tail end before I fall down and go to sleep. Some nights I close with self Reiki with a crystal or not.

    That is about it except the dark of the moon ritual for Hermes and Hekate at 8pm.
    that is usually about twenty minutes if I do it solitary.

  11. Irisanya says:

    Thank you for writing this post and for this in particular:

    “Frustration with yourself is just another indulgence – just another distraction from the practice.”

    Sometimes, my daily practice is more about not succumbing to my own frustration with how I’m not how I ‘should’ be. It’s good work, to be sure, but it does take away from what I could be doing.

    (In my head, I practice a lengthy Feri routine, plus meditate, write morning pages, sit in nature, and run.)

    Today, I lit an incense for Hecate.

    Small steps are still steps.

    Blessings of gratitude for sharing this.


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