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I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m working through the Initiate Path of ADF. The Dedicant Path took me three years to complete. The IP is taking much longer. The biggest hurdle for me is finding the quiet time and mental space to complete the work. My career is exhausting. Keeping house is exhausting. My daughter – I love her- is exhausting. When I do have free time, most of it goes to my fiction writing these days. It’s fulfilling, and has given me a different way to connect with my spirituality. I thank Brighid daily for the inspiration she’s blessed me with. Other hobbies are easier for me to do surrounded by the chaos of childhood – belly dance, gardening, watching anime. Reading and responding to academic texts is so, so hard most of the time. I lost count how many times I was interrupted as I tried to write this…

Yet I still aspire toward completing the IP, and eventually I would like to work through the clergy training program. I need goals for when my daughter is less mommy focused, right?

I’ve had to restart my Divination 2 journal several times. Today, I decided to restart it again. The reason is probably one many of you are familiar with. At first, you consistently record entries for a few weeks, then something happens. You’re tired one day, then family visits, then you’re sick… Before you know it, you’re looking at three weeks of no entries, and no recollection. Flubbing it is antithetical to the purpose.  And so, if you’re like me, you grumble and start again because perseverance is a virtue.

But so is wisdom.Wisdom is gained through the triad of learning, experience, and reflection. So I thought about what was and wasn’t working. The most frustrating thing about my having to restart the journal is that I do a daily divination almost every day as part of my devotional! I’m doing the work, but failing to document it! I prefer typing, so my journal has been housed on my computer. I do not turn my computer on when going to work. On weekends, my family gets so busy, that I often fail to think of documenting my divination!

I recently bought a set of two little Moleskine journals. I’ve carried one in my purse for over a year, filling it with random inspiration, thoughts, and dreams. It was nearing time to replace it, but the set came with two. What to do with the other? Today I realized the second would be my divination journal. I’ve even placed it on my altar so I see and remember to record. Even if I quickly jot down the ogham I draw, I can come back to it later in the day to ruminate further. Let’s hope this is the time I actually keep my journal for five months.

 

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Well, it should be obvious to everyone that it’s taking me a lot longer than 21 days to go through this lore challenge from Irish Pagan School, but at least I have not given up!

Today I jumped back into “Oidhe Cloinne Tuireann.”  The Tuatha Dé Danann are described in very earthly terms, and they express fear of the Fomorians who oppress them in this part of the Invasion Cycle. It is interesting to see these beings, which so many of us venerate as gods, tremble before an Otherworldly host. This occurs before the Milesians displace them to the Underworld.

To me, this suggests more about their roles than abilities or immortality. I am drawing on more than just the excerpt discussed today. We know the Tuatha Dé Danann are people of art and science. The Fomorians, on the other hand, seem to have a more primordial position. They control the harvest, and without a successful crop or hunt, civilization, created through art and science, collapses. The event read today occurs before the Fomorians are defeated, thus before Bres teaches Lugh the secrets of agriculture. Until those lessons were learned, civilization was at the complete mercy of nature.

That is just my interpretation, but it does lead me to some curiosity about the Fomorians. If they are the primordial beings of raw, natural power, how should we relate to them today given the shifting climate? I have much to ponder, but am not prepared to share more than that.

Oh my gods, I got so behind. Between planning for the Spring Equinox, and everyone getting sick, this ended up on the back burner. I’m home sick today. It’s my turn with what my daughter brought home from school, so I decided to be a bit productive with my studies. Might as well, right?

So, back to Oidhe Cloinne Tuireann. Today we read a bit about Lugh, specifically how he was fostered by the god Manannán mac Lir.  Lugh arrives at Tara with several of his foster brothers, and is armed with some of his foster father’s treasures – namely the horse Aonbharr, who was famously swift, Manannán’s armor, breastplate, helmet, and sword. These objects sound magical, as they promise protection and strength above and beyond normal accouterments of war.

In Ireland, fosterage was a tradition by which children were raised by another in the clan. The purpose could have been to strengthen bonds between family, and Lugh’s arrival at Tara with some of Manannán’s greatest treasures, as well as his own sons, suggests a great love and respect. I think this was important for Lugh due to his heritage. Lugh was half of the Tuath Dé Danann, and half of the Fomorians. To have Manannán for a foster father must have instilled a great trust in Lugh.

I’ve talked about my feelings about St. Patrick’s Day in the past, as well as my reasons for celebrating it as Irish Heritage Day instead. I’ve also shared, and will share again, Morgan Daimler’s excellent post on what we do know about St. Patrick, his history, snakes, etc. Each year, I continue to see the same inaccurate histories repeated about Ireland, St. Patrick, Druids, etc. Some people, apparently, even refuse to attend Irish Heritage festivals because of it! My goodness. So, instead of wasting energy gnashing your teeth about bunk history, here are some ways to celebrate Irish Heritage Day that will promote actual Irish history and cultural preservation. Before I begin, I want to remind everyone that I’m an American polytheist and a descendant of Irish immigrants. I will never attempt to represent people who actually live in Ireland, speak Irish, etc. I’m working hard to learn the old ways from Irish sources, so this is important to me, and I gather it’s important to many Irish pagans as well.

  1. Attend an Irish Heritage festival! Yes! Go! Listen to traditional music, watch or even partake in step dancing, and rub elbows with others who are proud of, or curious about, their heritage. (Just, you know… try not to get distracted by the plastic Paddy nonsense. It misrepresents Irish culture, and a lot of it is bad for the environment anyway. Also, try to avoid perpetuating drunken stereotypes.)
  2. If you can’t attend a festival, do listen to traditional music. There is plenty to stream online. And if you ever get the chance, buy CDs from bands who are keeping the old music alive and well. Play them for your families and at your gatherings. With time, you and your loved ones will learn to sing along. Perhaps it will inspire instrumental or dance lessons!
  3. Read a book about Irish history. Not modern Pagan practice. History. Learn about ancient history, yes, but also read about modern history. I’m no expert. It’s a work in progress, but we should not embrace Irish lore, symbolism, etc without grasping the fact that the Irish culture is still alive! Learn about what makes them who they are today so that you can inform your practice from a place of integrity and respect. If sitting down to read a book is not your thing, there are many podcasts dedicated to Irish history.
  4. Read or listen to Irish lore. Check out Lora O’Brien’s “Learn the Lore” challenge on Irish Pagan School. I can’t say enough about it! I’m so grateful that she is sharing and making so much available to people all over the world.
  5. Speaking of Lora O’Brien, she posted this to her FB in 2017:
    If you want to celebrate your Irish heritage today, please educate yourself. What can you learn about the reality of Ireland today?

    Try the Magdalene Laundries. Mother and Baby ‘Homes’ all over the country, and nearly 800 dead bodies in Tuam. The 8th Amendment. The Black and Tans. Treatment of political prisoners in the North. The Hunger Strikes. The Irish homeless crisis. Mental health crisis. There’s more, but…

    Instead of spending your cash and time drinking and ‘celebrating’ today, could ya donate that cash to Irish activist causes, and use that time to learn some real history.

    Happy Paddy’s Day.

    If you are able, research some of those causes, or others, and donate. I’m currently exploring some of the environmental organizations in Ireland. When I was blessed with the ability to visit in 2011, my favorite memories are of the time I spent along the River Boyne. It was gorgeous, and I long to go back and explore more of the natural wonders in Ireland. Since it inspired and moved me, perhaps that is a cause worthy of donation. What moves you?

  6. Cook an authentic Irish dish. I really enjoy exploring recipes from “Irish Traditional Cooking” by Darina Allen. I do have to alter things a bit to make them vegetarian, but I really appreciate all the extra information about the recipes and their cultural context, including how some things used to be made. Even while I don’t use meat, I think it’s important to understand traditional ingredients and why they were used.

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    I made (vegan) white soda bread today using a recipe from the book I linked and a basic, homemade vegan “buttermilk.” I think I used too much flour when I flattened it out… But I made it! I’ll offer some to my ancestors and the Good Folk. Photo by Grey Catsidhe (2019).

  7. Study the Irish language! I try to do a lesson each night using Duolingo. Like other Celtic languages, Irish (Gaeilge) needs to be preserved. Studying the language has helped me better understand how to pronounce important names, locations, and concepts within my religious practice, and it’s deepened my connection to my ancestors. Think of every lesson as an offering.
  8. Share stories with the young people in your life. Whether it’s fairy lore, mythology, tales of Ireland’s heroes (legendary or historic), or your own ancestral immigration stories, tell them to the children. As I cleaned my ancestral shrine today, I showed my daughter one of the few photos I have of my great, great, great grandmother, Mary, from County Mayo. It’s a treasure, given to me from my grandfather shortly before he passed away. My daughter was very interested, which made me so happy.

I hope you take time today to have fun, yes, but also be respectful, learn something, and promote the preservation of actual Irish history, lore, and culture.

I fell behind. Workdays exhaust me, and this was a particularly demanding one since I had to stay very late one of them. I’m not giving up on this challenge, though! It may take me longer than 21 days, but it’s so good and worthwhile, I must not abandon it.

Today I read through some of Oidhe Cloinne Tuireann (The Fate of the Children of Tuireann). Lora O’Brien makes a point to discuss the importance of reading the intact lore rather than just retellings, or else one will miss important or interesting details. Many of the complex, sometimes convoluted, stories have been watered down to increase understanding, and I’m certainly appreciative of that to a point. Irish lore was overwhelming enough to me as a newcomer several years ago. Yet some authors, particularly the Victorian-era English in all their colonial wisdom, removed information that they didn’t like or felt would be difficult for an English-speaking audience to understand. Now that I’ve got a foundation, I’m ready for more. I want to improve and deepen my understanding of my Irish ancestors and the Tuatha de Danann.

Part of why I started this class was to familiarize myself with the recorded lore, as close to the original tellings as possible, and to learn about where I can find these resources. I’ve already learned so much. I had read some truncated versions of “The Fate of the Children of Tuireann,” as well as lore about Miach and Nuada, but, as O’Brien explains, some of the stories are actually mixtures of two or more texts. You have to read them all to truly comprehend the context.

Sure enough, as we delved into Oidhe Cloinne Tuireann, I was immediately exposed to new stories I hadn’t heard before, like the cat-eyed doorman. Fascinating!

In the story, Miach and another healer I hadn’t heard of, Oirmiach, enter Tara and help the king, Nuada, with an ailment. A beetle jumps out of his arm and is killed by those present. Vermin who cause illness is apparently a common motif in Irish lore – one I didn’t notice until O’Brien pointed it out. Were these details overlooked in modern retellings? Did I simply gloss over them without thinking? I don’t know.

The beetle represents illness, an impurity, and it is only recognized and located by the keen eye of the healers. Miach and Oirmiach prove themselves and their worth, much as Lugh has to do when he comes to Tara. The disease must be removed before the healers can replace Nuada’s silver arm with one of flesh. Perhaps the disease is linked to the disfigurement of the king, and the healing was necessary in order for him to truly take his place at the helm of the Tuatha de Dannan.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow and reading more of the story. Once more, I encourage you to start the challenge found at The Irish Pagan School.

As you know, I’ve been working through the 21 Days of Lore challenge through Irish Pagan School. It’s a free course, brought to you by Lora O’Brien. I provided all the links in my first post on the subject. It feels especially meaningful to delve into Irish lore during Irish Heritage Month. As Druids and Irish-inspired polytheists, our exploration of history and mythology should not be limited to a specific time, but if you ever needed a push to get back into your studies, this has been fantastic so far.

Day 3 began an exploration of the Dinnshenchas. Thanks to the video, I finally know how to pronounce that! We looked at the poem “Berba,” then Lora instructed us to look up the River Barrow on Google maps and reflect on it.

I followed the river through what looks like farmland, fields, and even some forested areas. I noticed B&Bs, a waterfall, and trail heads. There are some places where it winds like the snake in the poem.  I moved back upwards through more urban centers, eventually losing it. Did it become another river? Google no longer labeled it after a point. Anyway, it got my little Sagittarius heart in a state of wanderlust. 

As I write my reflection, I keep pausing to look into other sources, to read about the river. I love rivers. They are an important part of my home’s ecology, history, and, yes, industry. I think of how all the waters are connected throughout the world, and how the water I see on the St. Lawrence at one point flowed through River Barrow. Perhaps I will get to see the River Barrow in person one day, and I shall think a similar thought, feeling a connection to home just as rivers in Northern NY help me feel connected, however distant, to my ancestral homeland.

Day 4, I was asked to interpret what is going on with Meiche in the poem “Berba.” We read more translations on Day 5. I hadn’t ever heard of him before. I found the story of his three hearts and the serpents to be very fascinating. It’s March, so everyone is on about St. Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland… But here we have an old story about someone (Mac Cecht) killing Meiche and destroying the snakes! Move over, St. Patrick. Leave it to An Dagda’s grandson. Others equate the snakes with plague, and I think that is an appropriate interpretation.

As for Meiche’s relationship to the Morrigan… I’m not sure. He could have been linked to her out of an attempt to equate her with evil by those who recorded the lore (as O’Brien posits). Perhaps he really was her son? A fosterling? Either way, this was all very new to me, and I’m delighted to finally delve into the Dinnshenchas and learn more about Ireland’s geography in the process!

I’ll probably have to do more multi-day posts like this. I’m very tired from a busy weekend, and Monday’s are always action-packed. In the meantime, I once more encourage you to check out this course!

As part of my work on the “Learn the Lore” course in the Irish Pagan School, I’m tasked with reflecting on my knowledge of the file tradition in Ireland as well as my current feelings on poetry. Next, I’m to share my thoughts and feelings on the story studied in days 1 and 2, “Echtra Condla” (The Adventures of Connla the Fair”).

At this point in my spiritual journey, I’m somewhat familiar with what the file tradition is. I have seen the Irish word fili before while reading through mythology and history books about Ireland. (A quick search helped me to linguistically understand that file is the modern Irish word, and fili is plural.) My understanding is that the fili are the bards. In this tradition, words have power. Music also has power, as we know through stories about An Dagda’s harp. To me, poetry is the marriage of language and music, so poetry is incredibly potent. To be a file is to tap into, and channel, that power.

Poetry is also difficult to create. At least in my experience. I try to write it, and often struggle. Prose comes easier to me, and yet I continue to do my best with poetry, especially when I write prayers and chants for my Druidry. I’m excited to learn more about the file tradition in this course. Perhaps this will inspire me?

I found the story of “”Echtra Condla” interesting. I vaguely remember reading it before. I recalled the fairy woman giving Connla and apple, followed by his wasting away, and going with her to the Otherworld. I forgot, or possibly decided to disregard, the woman’s prophesy about the coming of Christianity. In light of yesterday’s reflection, it’s interesting to think about the story as a young man’s conversion experience, and the Otherworld as heaven. As Lora pointed out in the video, while the coming of Christianity to Ireland did bring some problems, it was largely peaceful and positive compared to many other places. And thanks to the monasteries, we have stories like Connla’s. Personally, in my humble, novice opinion, I can see how easy it would be for Christian monks to alter the story for their purposes.

So what is my takeaway as a polytheist? The apple is a symbol of the Otherworld. It shows up in other stories, and I’m sure it will appear again in this course. Tales of Fairies luring away young men and women are also common. It’s interesting that she promises to take Connla to an island populated only by women. It is supposed to be a peaceful place. Take that as you will, I guess! Also of interest to me is the limitation of the Druids. This could very well be Christian propaganda, but it’s also a good reminder that the spirits often have more power than us humans. It’s a lesson in humility.