At the Heart(h) of it All

I have recently begun thinking about my personal religious expression in terms of “devotional hearthcraft.” This phrase borrows from both devotional Paganism/polytheism, specifically my devotion for Brighid, and hearthcraft, a term I believe was first coined by Arin Murphy-Hiscock in her book The Way of the Hedge Witch. When combined, these two paths nurture and inspire each other to become something greater than the sum of its parts.

At the start of my Flametending shifts for Brighid, I acknowledge that I’m accepting the flame from the last shift’s keeper with this prayer: “From heart to hearth I take this flame.” I say something similarly at the end of my shift as I prepare the flame to go out to the next member of our Cill: “From hearth to heart I pass this flame.” It’s this core idea, of Brighid’s presence represented by a flame both at my hearth and within my heart, that best symbolizes the interplay of devotionalism and hearthcraft.

 

What is Devotional Paganism/Polytheism?

When I talk about my Paganism being devotional, I mean that the core reason of doing and being Pagan is my relationship with Deity. For me, I only have a current working relationship with Brighid because I would rather have a deep and thorough relationship than a few more shallow ones. I know with my time and energy constraints that dividing my attention between multiple gods or spirits is not the best way for me to get things done. However, as with all things, your mileage may vary; there are certainly many folks with rich devotional lives centered around a plurality of divine persons.

Devoting myself to Brighid is, in many ways, like being in love – or getting into a new fandom – or discovering a hidden talent you possess for some skill or craft. Something clicks into place and there’s a rush of emotional rightness; my identity meshes firmly with this other person or idea and I feel whole in a different way than I did before. It goes back to the idea of synergy, that when you add two elements together you get a resulting mixture that is in fact larger, somehow, than the sum of its parts. It also ties into the idea of orthopsychy, of being “correct” in one’s soul/psyche/personality/whatever you want to call this particular element of humans. (Contrast with orthodoxy, “correct belief,” and orthopraxy, “correct practice.”) Aligning my psyche/soul with Brighid through devotional makes me feel fulfilled, whole, and purposeful, which are the ideal results of orthopsychy.

For me, a devotional lifestyle is one where I try to center Brighid in my thoughts and actions more often than not. This could manifest as more obvious forms of devotion like prayer, contemplation, working at my altar, and writing for and about Her. Certainly, my Flamekeeping is a devotional practice, as is my work with Clann Bhride. But devotion also means that I find Brighid even in “mundane” tasks. (Note the bunny ears, folks – Brighid is a goddess of the mundane, of chasing after kids and washing dishes and churning butter and self-care and remembering to fill your prescriptions and enjoying the simple pleasures in life.) I try to look for Brighid’s grace wherever I go and to approach my entire life as an opportunity to further Her Work. This looks like mindfulness, gratefulness, courage, humility, and radical hospitality and love, just to name a few qualities. My life becomes a prayer, which imbues every moment with meaning if I’m able to slow down long enough to recognize the sacred when I see it.

 

What is Hearthcraft?

Hearthcraft is a spiritual path that centers around the tending of home, hearth, and family. It may include things like kitchen and cottage witchcraft, garden witchery, hedge witchery, different forms of folk or “low” magic (especially centered around protection, health, and prosperity of the household), and work with Ancestors, deities, and spirits related to the home and hearth. In The Way of the Hedge Witch by Arin Murphy-Hiscock, the two primary symbols of hearthcraft are the flame and the cauldron. Whatever kind of physical space we dwell in, however we get our sustenance, fire (literal fire, or symbolically as electricity/heat) and water are the two vital elements that sustain us and our loved ones.

Hearthcraft for me is very intuitive and mindful. Chores have to be done whether I like it or not, so approaching the everyday details of housekeeping as a spiritual practice makes sense. When I brew a pot of tea for my wife, I’m concocting a magic potion of comfort, healing, and love. When I sort laundry or sweep the floor, I’m helping move stagnant energy around our apartment so our living space feels more welcoming and refreshing. When we cook and eat, we use the powerful symbols of fire and water to transform ingredients into nourishing meals. When I take my medicines regularly, use the ice machine or heating pad on my injured back, redirect anxious or angry thought patterns, or otherwise engage in self care, I’m nurturing the spirit of our family.

When done correctly, hearthcraft can lead to a more mindful and present existence within my home. Caring for the apartment that houses us leads to a deeper understanding of all the variables affecting my family. Harmony and peace don’t happen accidentally; they must be cultivated, tended, pruned, or whatever sort of metaphor works at the moment. The tools I use to encourage the growth of harmony and peace in my home are everyday necessities like a teapot and loose tea, a broom and dustpan, NSAIDs and an ice pack, a wooden spoon and a big pot of egg noodles with a pat of butter and some garlic salt. The sacred rites of hearthcraft include recycling, tending to the air humidifier for an asthmatic partner, drawing a warm bubble bath, and calling the super to fix a leaky toilet. The holy points of the year for my hearth include payday, bank holidays when my wife and I are both off work, our shared Sundays off, anniversaries and birthdays, and the current season of spring cleaning.

 

Putting them Together

At this point, I hope it’s obvious how devotional Paganism/polytheism and hearthcraft play well together. Both these approaches require a certain amount of mindfulness and appreciation for the smaller details in life. For someone like me who struggles with severe anxiety and neurodivergence, it can be all too easy to loose sight of the small things because of a looming bigger picture. Being caught in a slingshot between past regrets and future worries is tiring for myself and for the spirit of my home. But when I remind myself to slow down, that I can find grace in pain, that I can practice sacred hospitality on myself and my wife, that Brighid is all in the details, that just being is enough of a prayer… when I can manage all that, then my world falls into place.

It makes sense to pair hearthcraft with my devotion to Brighid because She is a goddess of the home and family. It makes sense to pair devotion with hearthcraft because hearthcraft is also about being mindful and making the conscious choice to recognize the sacred in the mundane. Together, they blend into a holistic path that gives me support, succor, and encouragement. What’s more, devotional hearthcraft is a practice that deepens over time. I’m just now understanding how this practice affects my life, and I’m sure over the next weeks and months I’ll make more realizations about its practices, philosophies, and applications.

About the Author

Sage Ambue is a queer, nonbinary, and disabled 20-something living in New York City with their wife. Their spiritual life is influenced by Brigidine Paganism, kitchen/cottage/hedge witchcraft, Tarot and astrology, and social justice - a path Sage has taken to calling "devotional hearthcraft." In 2014, Sage became a founding member of Clann Bhride (http://clannbhride.wordpress.com/), a devotional order dedicated to Brighid in all Her guises. They offer Tarot readings with their wife at Oak and Sage Tarot (https://oakandsagetarot.wordpress.com/).

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