Stoles, Torcs, Obligations, Relationships

I often give a lot of thought about what to wear, both on an every day basis and for ritual. I don’t mean this solely in a fashion sense, but with regards to symbol or relevance for myself personally and my spirituality. There are certain colours that I associate with certain gods, or concepts, and I have preferences about the style of clothing I should wear when engaged in particular activities. I don’t always follow it, sometimes because it doesn’t matter for me at that moment, or because I am worried about what others will think if I insist that I have to wear purple, or a skirt, or cover my hair, etc.

But lately I’ve been thinking about the stole, since I’m hoping to earn the right to wear one in the future. Ordained priests in ADF wear a white stole that has both the ADF logo and the symbol of the cosmos embroidered on it. It is an article of clothing that carries within it the weight of responsibility to the gods, the folk, and the land — those three things to which a priest swears to serve when they are ordained. Because of its importance that I ascribe to it, I wouldn’t want to wear one, or a semblance of one, because I haven’t earned it yet.

Interestingly enough, some time ago I had a conversation with a man I deeply respect about torcs, and he suggested to me that I consider to wear one myself. I laughed it off, saying that I wasn’t a warrior, and he reminded me that torcs were also worn by chieftains and learned men, and that my contributions to my Grove and local community were worthy of such, and that it didn’t have to wait until after I became a Priest. I feel that that would be a funny thing to give to myself, so I hadn’t… though I do wear one now as the ADF Warriors Guild Wellspring Women’s Champion, though it’s only mine temporarily. This one, I’ve won the right to wear. And I must maintain my right to wear it by acting as a warrior: by maintaining my physical health through exercise, diet, and balanced living. I’ve taken up running, which I’m not very good at, but think it a reasonable skill for a warrior to have. Where I may not choose to compete for the torc again next year, through the year that I have it I must act in accordance with how a champion should.

Quite a number of ADF members dedicated to Brighid or Manannán now have beautiful handmade stoles to wear. They are crafted and sold by an ADF member who creates them as part of her own devotional practice. I have a Brighid one myself, gifted to me by a Grovemate this past Winter Solstice. The other flametenders in our Grove have them as well, and the Fire Tender in our rites wears hers as an indicator of her position (The Fire Tender is in charge of fire safety, maintains the fires at the altar, and aids the Celebrant in directing folk to the appropriate place for offerings).

The stole, to me, symbolises service, whether to the folk or to a deity. It shows others our commitment and that we have something to offer to the community. I don’t wear my Brighid stole when I’m not Fire Tender, because I’m not performing that role (also, I’m usually the Celebrant, so I need to have my focus on the deity of the occasion and all the Kindreds). But I don’t tend to wear it at home, either. I feel it would be… pretentious. What do I do to serve Brighid? What do I do to aid others in their relationships with Brighid?

I feel that I need to answer that question before I can wear it again. The declaration that I am a flametender needs to be accompanied by action, more action than the lighting of Her flame crammed in between other activities that always fall on flametending day and take my focus away from it. My personal practice is become ever more complex, with days set aside for contemplation, a developing moon observance which seems to be required, household rites performed each week, and daily devotions informed by an expanding Wheel of Worship with prayers that change with the seasons. And yet, my flametending practice has not even remained constant; I have not accorded it the respect it deserves.

This is also the reason I’m not going to purchase for myself a Manannán stole. To wear that, I would need to determine the answers to those questions for Manannán, too. What would I do to serve Manannán? What would I do to aid others in their relationships with Him? At this time, that isn’t the relationship I have, or want to have with Him. He is an important presence in my life, but in a different way; my experiences with Him have been as a foster-daughter’s would, and His only requests of me at this time are personal. Rather than a stole, I have a handmade cord from Beth Lynch (Fiberwytch), which I wore on our Grove’s pilgrimage walk to His tree. For me, a stole would be an inappropriate symbol for that relationship.

Tomorrow is my flametending shift, and also the first of three Contemplation Days. I pray that Brighid grants me Her presence, and that I have the focus to stay within it. My blessings on all of you, too.

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