Canines on my spiritual path v 2.5:
Or I was a toddler weredog
by Saigh Kym Lambert (copyright 1999, 2004, 2012, 2021 © Saigh Kym Lambert, all rights reserved do not republish anywhere)
Dogs have been a huge part of my life from my earliest memory in this lifetime being about a dog, or at least I gather it is my earliest despite my problems remembering the chronology of events. However, my memory is of sitting on the kitchen floor with my arms lifted up around Rusty, a big golden dog that I figured had been a Golden Retriever but then discovered that Rusty was actually a Cocker Spaniel! So I was pretty small at the time.
My first memory of preforming an act of “rescuing” a dog? I was 3 years old and with my sister to buy a dog for our mother., in the early ’60s when adoption apparently was an unknown option. I insisted on a silver beige Toy Poodle. Why? Because it was the one proportionally the biggest in comparison to the crate it was in. Or perhaps I convinced myself this was what happened when I got questioned about why I chose her time and time again. The first word out of my father’s mouth when he saw her was “scram!” and that became her name. Many people’s opinion of her was similar. But I adored her, as did my mother. She was very tiny and very fierce. We always kept her “puppy clipped” without a pom-pom to be seen so that she looked like an actual dog (this is how we saw it, I was an adult by the time that I learned that “that haircut” was actually designed for keeping organs and joints warm in cold water retrieval). Or at times a lamb as we weren’t all that regular with her clippings. When my father got a Doberman and my sister, who for a time lived just down the road, a Great Dane, Scram was the definite alpha who kept all these dogs, though they towered over her, in line. No dog was more ferocious than Scram.
But many of my early canine memories is of being a dog. Or thinking I was. Through the years I’ve thought perhaps it was just delusion, perhaps not fully processed reincarnation fragments. Or perhaps my mother let me watch Dark Shadows at too young an age, but have since realized that I was 6 when the first werewolf appeared it, and I was younger than that when this started. But I did become both fascinated and annoyed by the werewolves on DS, annoyed because they all were men and they all wanted to be cured and none figured out to go into the woods and chase animals instead of staying around where they’d find people instead. Perhaps, however, there was a realization of something within me, something I connected to, which came to me very early. Either way it has incorporated into my spiritual identity, especially later, especially as I learned about the connection of warriors and dogs and fáelad and my Goddess and wolves, and how these things may relate.
That was when I first made contact, I believe, with the Otherworld. With beings that were often neither humanoid nor animal, but could appear to be both. The Wolf Bitch started to be around then. Not close, but there. My first experiences with the spiritual where watched over by her, me so young I had not concept of religion or spirituality. Only of my friends I later “learned” were imaginary and who I lost for many years when I “grew up” ….until I was ready to realize that what a child knows is sometimes more real than we are convinced of later.
In later childhood, my first experiences of Goddess worshiping were defined by hounds. At about 9 or 10 years old, I became fascinated with Greek mythology. This is what was readily available, “fiction” from history and English classes in school. I dedicated myself to Artemis in the woods near our home one summer day. With Her Hounds in attendance….along with my father’s Doberman. I spent much time in the woods with Cinnamon, sometime my sister’s Great Dane and my brother’s Golden Retriever (both my older siblings lived nearby at the time).
In the house was still Scram. Well, outside too, but never as deeply in the woods (although there was the one day that she and I met the coyote. I had a 15 pound unspayed bitch with me, so we didn’t stick around to make introductions). As I reach puberty I was one of those kids that manifested “poltergeist” activity……mostly noises, some movement of objects. My Sight also became stronger at this time, which was sometimes frightening. With me through this was Scram, who stayed in my room at night. She sometimes would wake screaming when something would come into the room. Or attack the “air.” Cinnamon likewise would show he saw things that I was the only human to see, although he did not do the stairs to my room where most happened. One night he went after a “person” that was lurking about, but never caught him (if there had been a person there he would have caught him…he was a trained guard dog and, well, they may not be as fast as a Greyhound but Dobies are not slow). It was during this time that an interest in the Occult developed, one that led me to discover Witchcraft as a name for someone who worshiped Goddesses…..later to find “Pagan” as a name still used as well. And to learn I wasn’t alone. That I wouldn’t always have only the dogs to vindicate that there was something there as well. Others believed.
By the time Gabrielle came into my life, when I was 16, I fully defined myself as Pagan and Witch…….worshiping and practicing in a Wiccan style (I was untrained and initiated, as I was later trained and initiated in a British Traditional group, I believe these are required to actually be Wiccan). Artemis was still my Matron. However, it was while Gabe was giving birth, at less than a year old (first heats sneak up on you and some bitches will go through anything to get to a dog, including a closed window! I’m a big believer in spaying before first heat), that I feel I met another Bitch Goddess. I spent hours fighting the fact that the first pup born, that Gabe had abandoned, was going to die. Of course, Gabe knew better than me. The first time I fought with death, the first time Hecate and Her hounds came into my life. Of course, as one always does in such a battle, I lost.
Gabe was one of those extraordinary ritual dogs. She’d watch the energy at the edge of the circle, never crossing it which ever side she ended up on. If something was going wrong, something I was missing was happening, she’d let me know. For years she was the only other one in my rituals. She was often called, by others, my familiar (but she never ran errands for me nor let me possess her body to do so, so that doesn’t follow—yeah, I tend to be very literal about such things) or my “medicine dog” (a bit NDN wannabe for my PC comfort). We traveled over much of the East Coast together. We spent a summer in the woods, not quite living off the land…okay, not at all really, but in the woods. She went to many political actions of all sorts with me, appeared in a few newspaper shots. Much of my time, when I lived up north was spent hiking, running or riding horseback (horses being almost as strong a focus for me), Gabe was with me in these activities at all times.
Gabe was with me when I first started to feel the pull to walk the warrior path, when I first learned the name “Morrígan” and the first night I called out to this Goddess. Long before She decided I was ready (by which time I knew better than to try to get Her attention, such is the irony of life). A full moon night, on a hillside in a park, I felt this draw to that side. To something darker than I was allowing myself to experience. Something that might have horrified those I worked with at the time. But Gabe was not, and I trusted her. Walking out of the park, a male jogger asked me if I wasn’t afraid to be in the park alone, I laughed at him and asked who would be foolish enough to bother me on a night like tonight. Gabe ran to him in a friendly manner and nosed him, then scooted back to stand between us. She has protected me once from a potential rapist years when she was not much more than a pup, I had faith that she would again if I needed. But I felt as powerful myself at that moment. I was a Bitch too. Perhaps foolish, but perhaps not.
I was claimed by the War Goddess when I was initiated into Wicca, a few years later. Shortly after She appeared to me, I had a dream that I was attacked by a large black wolf. I recognized this as the Otherworldly beast that watched me as a child. All those I knew turned away from my fight would not help me, including Gabe. I was alone. I killed the wolf…..heartsick at having had to. Holding the body in my arms, I felt the wolf enter my body. By “killing” her I had in fact become her. It no longer watched me from outside, but was a part of me. A center for me as well, my strength, my power.
It was later, about the time I was leaving the practice of Wicca and developing from a Reconstructionist view that the War Goddesses appeared to me as Morrígna, the Three Together instead of as One. Black Crow, White Mare, and a Red Bitch that looked like a cross of a Sighthound and a Wolf. The wolf form can be found in the Táin Bó Cúalnge (pg. 180 Rec 1 English, pg. 61 Irish) where She appears as such to Cú Chulainn, as well as eel and heifer.
These two things may have led me for years to identify, although hardly live up to either in ability or conceit, Cú Chulainn’s myth. For he kills a hound as a child and takes on both the animal’s role and its name, “Hound of the Smith.” ((pg 140-142 TBC English, pg. 17-19 Irish see also The Celtic Hound ). The killing of a canine to become it. Being claimed by Her.
As I learned more about the connection of the Fianna with the concept of fáelad (wolfing), as well as their strong connection to hounds ((Nagy pg. 44, 244 n20 Wisdom, McCone “Werewolves..” West “Aspects of díberg … I write a bit more The Celtic Hound as well as in an upcoming article on The War Goddesses). The concept of such transformation of will and spirit, if not body, similar as well to Chulainn’s ríastrad (warp spasm) which may not transform him into a hound, but then he had become always the Hound. What had seemed a pop culture fantasy I grew out of in my childhood has actually become a part of my spiritual path. (I would like to note that there is no similarity to this and the modern concept of “Otherkin.” Any feelings of identity confusion I might have had as a toddler is gone, I am well aware of being a human who can connect to the wolf or dog on a spiritual level rather than being a wolf stuck in human form or anything like that)
Gabe was there when I was claimed. She watched me go from pacifist to taking the first real steps on the warrior path. In her last years she watched me as I began to study Celtic culture and Paganism in college and leave Wicca for CR Paganism. She watched me struggle with having to destroy old ideas and beliefs and accept new ones that weren’t always that easy to deal with. She patiently listened. She gladly stayed by my side as I tried new ways to worship, new ritual forms. Or quietly connected to Her with no ritual at all. We still roamed the woods and fields, with me sometimes on horseback, until her arthritis prevented her. Then we’d walk, but closer to home, sitting by the pond, the pond her body lies next to always.
And with the baying of Otherworld Hounds in my ears, I held her as she left this world. And I told her that she was free now to run with her namesakes, the Gabriel Ratchett Hounds (a Christian term but for the Hounds of the Wild Hunt just the same).
The next year I moved back to the Seacoast and my horses were killed (or rather horses I had hoped to buy). I had neither hound nor horse. It seemed at times I was not me.
About a year after Midnight and Trouble’s deaths, I again connected with the beasts of the Wild Hunt. Someone I recently met who was himself hunted by prey that had once long ago escaped the Hunt. On that night I sought the help of Odin, and the Grey Man granted it…..not only taking the creature back into the Hunt, but running his Hounds/Wolves, Horses, and Hunters around us rather than over. That was remarkable, it took years to understand why. And it took years before I was fully a peace with having been claimed not only a God, but one who was not Celtic…..it actually took the affliction of a physical hints to do it! Again, the Wolf, the Raven, the Horse.
When my husband and I adopted our Greyhound Irony, that connection was remade. Perhaps remade, for I knew she was supposed to be our dog when I first saw just her name on the list of available dogs and it was obvious she knew we were her people at first site. I strongly believe that she was Gabe returned, as I believe our family, furred or human, tends to return to us. She quickly took to our rituals, her awareness of the Otherworld is strong. Our first ritual with her at Lùnasdalh was amazing, right down to the simple fact that my momentary concern that she wouldn’t share our Blessing, that year it was blackberries, was quickly alleviated. She loved them. Just as Gabe did. Her ability to play “Trickster” was only overshadowed by her “brother” Bran’s skill when he joined our family.
Likewise Scolaighe joined right in, although her health issues made her a bit less involved. However, Gleann, just a puppy at his first ritual, who is able to be off leash took to helping with the Outsider offerings and then guarding the West gate right from the start. He has continued to grow more into his role, both in ritual and as a guardian of our animals and land. Cù and Òrlaith join us today, and Sachairi is right beside Gleann as we go out to do Outsiders and then close to our sides for the rest of the ritual, just as he is too a guardian of our other beasts, albeit a small but fierce one.
For information the Greyhound, and some on other dogs, in early Celtic cultures see: The Celtic Hound
Contents and design, except where noted otherwise, copyright © 1999, 2004, 2012 Saigh Kym Lambert
Photos by Saigh Kym Lambert or her family