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Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

Ellis, Peter Berresford.  A Brief History of the Druids. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers,

2003.

Each Summer Solstice the news media releases a handful of articles on a modern group of Druids worshipping near Stonehenge.  The photos are of regular looking people wearing long white robes and sometimes white head coverings that look more akin to Egyptian head dresses.  They stand in a circle and perform their ritual to the Gods.  One has to ask whether what they are doing is historically accurate or not.  To answer such questions, Peter Berresford Ellis’ book, A Brief History of the Druids, is an excellent starting point.

Ellis’ book is earnest in admitting that he does not know everything about the Druids.  In fact, there is very little in which he could possibly know in our modern times.  Relying on archaeology, linguistics, history, and lore, Ellis explains what is and isn’t known about this mysterious group of people while debunking several myths at the same time.  The book is organized in such a way that he starts with a generalized introduction and then narrows the topic down chapter by chapter.

He begins by describing what is generally thought about the Druids.  Most of our perceptions are shaped by the reports of foreigners such as Caesar and Pliny and are therefore often full of anti-Celtic propaganda (11).  Much of the remaining evidence comes from Christianized Celts.  Everything else must be surmised through linguistics and archaeology for the Druids left no literature of their own due to a taboo against writing (13).  It is therefore difficult to fully understand the Druids.  Everything examined must be taken with a proverbial grain of salt.

Having provided a few disclaimers, Ellis explores the world of the Celts beginning with what little is known of their origins.  These people lived “north of the Alps … from Ireland and Britain in the west, as far east as the central plains of what is now Turkey” (23).    They are defined as Celts based on the similarities of the languages they used which survive today as modern Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton (25).  The Celts, Ellis explains, lived in a society divided by classes: workers, artisans, warriors, and the Druids who represented the highest level of academia in Celtic society (29).

So what of the Druids themselves and where do they come from?  Ellis first delves into the etymology of the word Druid to come to various possibilities.  The first is that the word Druid means “oak knowledge” as drus is Greek for “an oak” and wid means “to know” (37).  Another meaning could be “immersed in knowledge” due to the similarities found between old Celtic and Sanskrit words for water and dew.  Either way, the Druids are already connected with knowledge, trees, and water – three very important things in both ancient and modern Druidry.  However the Druids evolved, they came to be the priestly class who oversaw religious, judicial, medical, political, scientific, and educational matters of the Celtic people.  According to the Greeks and Romans, the Druids were divided into three subclasses: Druids, Vates, and Bards.  The Druids were basically the teachers, philosophers, and scientists.  Meanwhile, the Vates focused more on nature and divination and the Bards were historians, musicians, and poets (51).  This special class of intellectuals, which was made up of both men and women (91) held a lot of power – so much so that not even a king was allowed to speak before a Druid (75).

No discussion of the Druids would be complete without a chapter or two dedicated to their religion and rituals.  So many of the ancient texts refer to them as performing mysterious rites and worshipping various deities that we know religion played a large role in the life of a Druid.  Ellis explains that the Celts were polytheists although several modern men have tried to mold the Druids into proto-Christians who worshiped a single God (114).  There are actually over three hundred known Celtic deities, and several are localized meaning that they are associated with only one place (114).  There are a few Gods who were known in many places.  Ellis provides brief descriptions of some of the better known deities such as Danu, Dagda, Bel, Cernunos, Nuada, Lugh, Taranis, Ogma, and the Mórrígán.  Although the explanations are short, they are fitting for a work dedicated to the Druids rather than the Gods.  There is the possibility that the sudden deluge of Celtic Gods and mythology could confuse and overwhelm a novice, but I’ve found that further reading will help to better familiarize the curious mind.

In dissecting the wisdom of the Druids, Ellis breaks the chapter down topic by topic so that we are given an in-depth look at what we know of their skill in various areas such as magic, astrology, and medicine.  I found this section of the book to be the driest, possibly because I am most interested in the Druids’ function as priests rather than judges and astronomers.  However the section should not be overlooked as it truly shows the rich knowledge of the Druids. They were not simply a barbarian people as the Romans were so fond of thinking.  The Celts and their Druids were very well versed in science and enjoyed many accomplishments.  Anyone of Celtic background should feel a sense of pride when reading about such feats.

A Brief History of the Druids should be essential reading material for anyone aspiring to the knowledge of the Druids.  It first provides a good historical background of the people we in ADF are hoping to emulate and also grounds us in our practice by providing the context for our rituals.  Ellis’ discussions of holy wells, trees, divination, and fire in connection to the landscape, festivals, and mythology help to make sense of our liturgical practices.  A good understanding of why a person practices what he or she does is essential for a truly spiritual, intelligent, and introspective human being. Aspiring Druids should hope to be all three of those things.

The book ends with a discussion on the Druidic revival that has been going on for a few hundred years.  It is an interesting although lacking explanation of modern Druidry.  I say that because Ellis focuses on the romantic Druidic groups and only briefly mentions the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, one of the largest Druidic groups today.  There is no reference to Ár nDraíocht Féin or even Celtic Reconstructionists.  This is too bad because he leaves the unknowing reader under the impression that many modern Druidic groups rely on poor research to create their traditions.  He ends the book by reminding the reader that many Celtic countries are forgetting their language and losing their social customs which is truly sad.  He bemoans the fact that many modern Druids are more concerned with the esoteric aspects of Druidry and not the cultural.  I believe that this is a legitimate concern, however, once more, by failing to explore Ár nDraíocht Féin or Celtic Reconstructionism he is overlooking groups who do require learning about the cultures and at least a minimal amount of language study.  Although students of Druidry must be aware of the historical realities of their Druidic homelands, I feel that the pessimistic ending spoiled what was otherwise a very well-written, informative book.

 

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Jones, Prudence, and Nigel Pennick.  A History of Pagan Europe.  New York: Barnes & Noble,

1995.

 

A side of history that has remained silent for many years is finally revealed in Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick’s work A History of Pagan Europe.  Through exploring the tomes of history, lore, and archaeology, the authors have put together an impeccable overview of the various ancient people of Europe.  In doing so, they exhibit not only how Europe became Europe, but how modern Paganism came to be.  A History of Pagan Europe is an excellent source for Pagan students.  What I found most fascinating were the similarities shared by the various cultures discussed.

Many people of European descent know very little about their ancestors.  The authors begin their work by stating that most people “are more familiar with native traditions from outside Europe than with their own spiritual heritage” (1).  This is sad, particularly so because many European descendants vehemently distance themselves from Paganism even though it has always been there and continues to exist, as Jones and Pennick argue, within our modern society, intertwined in some of our most seemingly secular institutions (1) such as democracy the celebration of Christmas.  The authors set out to debunk the misconceptions about Paganism held by society and show that we really aren’t so different from our ancestors.

The authors attempt to define what Paganism actually is.  I’ve found that it’s difficult to do so in this modern age because so many people, in particular Pagans themselves, refuse to be defined.  I feel that Jones and Pennick come to a satisfying conclusion.  If Paganism is ever to become unified (even though, again, some modern Pagans would argue against this notion), we have to unite under a name and group definition.  The authors first describe how people have defined Pagans in the past.  From country bumpkins to “non-combatants” (as opposed to the “soldiers of Christ”), the word “Pagan” has had a more or less pejorative meaning for the past few hundred years (1).  Jones and Pennick then look at the modern, spiritual definition and conclude that Pagan religions, past and present, share some common traits: polytheism (or some form of worshiping more than one deity), the view of nature as a theophany, and the recognition of Goddesses as well as Gods.  While some Pagans will argue with this, I feel that it covers many of our past and present traditions.  In my opinion, the authors do Paganism at large a service by providing a positive and academic definition.

We then delve into the history of the Greeks and the Eastern Mediterranean, the Romans and the Western Mediterranean, the Celts, the Germanic people, the Baltic people, and the Slavic people.  I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between these different cultures.  For instance, sacred trees kept revealing themselves in each culture.  The authors explain that in Greece “[m]any sanctuaries in later Greek culture centered on a sacred tree…”(6).  Later they explain that “[n]o temple was dedicated unless there was a holy tree associated with it” (20).  The Celts were said to worship in groves of trees (81) and some Germanic tribes also met in such places (116).  The Baltic people had celebrations revolving around ritualized trees that Pennick and Jones argue represented the “axis of the Earth’s rotation” (174).  In Lithuania, there were also sacred groves that were not to be cut  (176).  Everyone seems to have had a sense of the importance of the forest.  I was surprised, however, that the authors did not discuss the world tree of Norse tradition.

Nature was repeatedly venerated in some way from culture to culture. Sacred springs or wells played central roles to many of the old religions.  Slavic Pagans had rituals in which ceremonial dancers “undertook a nine-day ceremony [in which they] visited nine boundary-points, filled a ceremonial vessel with water from nine springs, and prayed to their patron goddess Irondeasa” (190).  The Celtic tribes felt that springs were sacred places as well.  There were springs at Bath associated with the Goddess Sul and “[s]sometimes these springs were thought to cure eye diseases, bringing the light of the Sun to the eye of the sufferer” (88).  In Ireland, “well-worship continues in a modern form, sometimes as a local folk-observance but more often by adoption into Christianity in the form of ‘well-dressing’” in which the well is decorated by the community and then blessed by a local priest (83-84).  The Greeks also recognized sacred springs (10).  The various cultures covered also had strong beliefs associated with fire and/or solar powers, nature spirits, agricultural festivals, and honoring the Earth.  It was interesting to see that, although the cultures venerated nature, they also exploited it. Unlike our modern world, however, our ancestors were very aware of the balance and the need to give back to nature and the Gods.

The dead and the Otherworld were also a common theme.  In Rome, “the remains of the dead were elaborately honored and they were housed in elaborate necropolises…” (26).  Obviously, there existed a concern with the afterlife. We know from Celtic lore that there were times of the year when the dead and other beings of the Otherworld could commune with the world of the living (90).  We know of some Germanic funeral traditions, some from direct observation.  While we may not know the meaning behind the traditions, it is, again, obvious that the dead were being taken care of and that they seem to have been sent into the Otherworld fully prepared for renewed life (138).  In addition, Pennick and Jones point out that the Germans were a bit different from other European Pagans in that they actually felt that their tribal ancestors were Gods (116).  In my opinion, this adds a whole new layer of sacredness to ancestor worship.

There were so many common themes that it would take pages and pages to discuss them all.  Reading about the various similarities helped to reinforce the customs of Ár nDraíocht Féin.   The creation of our altars and what goes on them makes more sense when viewed as a continuation of our ancestral religious traditions.  The tree represents the sacred tree that reveals itself again and again throughout the pages of the book.  The well represents the many sacred springs.  The cauldron represents the sacred fire.  We give offerings to the nature spirits because, like our ancestors, we believe that we need to give back to nature in thanks for what it gives us.  We honor our ancestors like our forefathers and mothers did.  We set up temples and worship in or around sacred trees.  Having read A History of Pagan Europe, I’m filled with a more academic understanding for all that we do in our tradition and it fills me with pride. It almost seems that through practicing as my ancestors did I am honoring them.

Reading the book hasn’t really changed how I practice my religion.  I’ve been recognizing the importance of the sacred tree, well, and fire for awhile now, and have been observing the other customs of ADF because they felt right. Reading about the historical background of everything only reinforces my spiritual practices and gives me a better understanding for other cultures that I may otherwise have never read about.  As someone who has clergy aspirations, it is useful to know that many of our practices are universal throughout Europe.  If I was required to do a Norse ritual, for instance, I wouldn’t feel too out of place after doing the appropriate amount of research on the pantheon.

The book ends by discussing how Paganism has been reestablishing itself, first through the Renaissance, and finally through the various modern movements.  The authors briefly touch on Druidry and Ásatrú, however I felt that they were more favorable of Wicca.  While Ásatrú has more of an honorable mention, Druidry is made to look like a fantasy-based fraternity (211).  Some of the first modern Druids do have Masonic roots, but the authors have failed to take note of other viable Celtic-inspired traditions that do more research and rely less on romantic fancy.  Perhaps it’s because the book was written before Ár nDraíocht Féin and Celtic Reconstructionism were as known as they are now. Meanwhile, Wicca is praised as the “kind of Paganism [that] looks ahead, offering a new philosophy, more strongly than it looks to its roots in the past” (220).  While I’ll never condemn Wicca, I do think that the authors have ignored the fact that many groups, including Ásatrú groups, take on the Reconstructionist principal that religions should be updated for our modern world while holding onto those traditions that are still applicable.  Meanwhile, many branches of Wicca have become just as fantasy-driven as the old Druidic orders.  I believe that having an understanding of history is very important, especially where religion is concerned.

A History of Pagan Europe should be read by every Pagan and history student alike.  Modern Pagans should have a firm understanding of where their traditions have evolved from.  Even Pagans who do not have European ancestry should give the book a try, especially if they live in a Euro-centric country like America or Canada. It can give a lot of perspective on our culture, especially where holidays and our calendar are concerned. Meanwhile, history students should appreciate the other side of the story and see the many examples of how Paganism was not necessarily stamped out, but rather absorbed into our modern world.

 

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I came across a childrens’ book today and, after flipping through it, I couldn’t pass it up for my growing collection of young Pagan literature.  Any parents/educators should be familiar with the hugely successful “Magic Tree House” books.  I see second and third graders reading them all the time.  This book, entitled Leprechauns and Irish Folklore, by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce, is “a nonfiction companion to” a fictional book they wrote called Leprechaun in Late Winter.  I read all 109 pages of the companion in an hour or so.

What’s so impressive about this book is how open-minded and scholarly it is.  While the authors don’t discuss the evolution of Lugh to leprechaun, they do briefly discuss the Tuatha De Danann.  There’s a whole chapter devoted to the modern history of Irish folklore.  It features sections about Douglas Hyde and Lady Gregory, for example, and even introduces the subject of British occupation.

Different spirits are discussed, such as the trooping fairies, pookas, and clurichauns.  The authors give examples of how people have/can befriend the good folk, as well as how to defend against them.  All the examples are consistent with the lore and folklore studies I’ve been reading.  The selkies have a section too but are called merrows (or múir ógh for sea maiden).  Speaking of Gaelic, the Irish is pretty accurate as far as I can tell with my novice understanding.  Children reading will learn about the filí and raths for instance.  I love that the authors used actual Irish!

My only real complaint is that the Druids are presented only as “wise men” (73) rather than men and women.  The book sometimes relies too heavily on the more modern idea of diminutive winged fairies but makes up for it by explaining that they can appear however they want.  Otherwise I highly recommend it for Pagan parents, especially those with Irish hearth cultures.    It’s very well written, contains beautiful illustrations and photographs, and even includes a section with further reading and research tips for youngsters to follow!  Rather than calling a belief in fairies nonsensical, the book leaves it up to the reader to decide for him or herself what to believe.  I really appreciated that bit of spiritual tolerance / allowance for magic.

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When I was a jaded high schooler, newly converted from Catholicism to “Wicca,”*  I didn’t have a good understanding of ancient or medieval history.  I knew quite a bit about American history thanks to years and years of emphasis in school, but otherwise…  I knew a bit about feudalism, I knew that the Egyptians were some sort of polytheists who built the pyramids and believed in an afterlife, and I had a vague idea that the Druids were from Ireland.  For years after, even into my earliest Druidic studies, I was convinced that St. Patrick’s Day was a crappy holiday because it celebrated how mean old St. Patrick kicked the Druids (aka The Snakes) out of Ireland.

Fast forward to the last … oh, year and a half.  My interest in Druidism has grown so that it’s an incredibly important part of my life.  I read about it a lot.  Inspired by Celtic Reconstructionist methodologies, I read history book after history book, even the dry ones, to obtain a greater understanding of my ancestors and the culture I feel most inspired by.  It is impossible for me to wag my finger at St. Patrick after reading as much as I have.  I’m not alone in this revelation.  Several Pagan bloggers have been discussing their feelings and understandings of the holiday.  To make a long story short, St. Patrick has been framed.  He’s a scapegoat among the Pagan community – a largely innocent Christian victim to our community’s “Waaaa, you stole my toy!” attitude.**

In other words, I have less of a “bah humbug” attitude about St. Patrick’s Day.  A couple years ago, a friend of mine (I swear, I think it was one of my sister-in-laws), who is neither Pagan nor Christian, told me that she prefers to celebrate St. Patrick’s day in the spirit of her Irish ancestry.  I’ve come to feel similarly, especially when considering what my immigrant ancestors went through.  I come from a proud, strong, spiritual, creative, and tenacious people.  I am honored to have Irish blood flowing through my veins.

That said, St. Patrick’s Day cannot escape my criticism entirely.  Although I don’t get very “into” St. Patrick’s Day,***  I’m not against celebrating my culture.  I also recognize that many minority groups join in because the Irish are, more or less, a success story in America.  Although they were persecuted and abused, they climbed the social ladder and many of us are successful and happy today thanks to their efforts****.  However, the celebration is just way, way too commercial.  There are too many crappy, plastic trinkets that end up in garbage limbo, too many styrofoam shamrocks, too many greasy attempts at Irish food, and too much ignorant debauchery.  I use such language because it’s true!  I love a good drink and a reason to party, but on St. Patrick’s Day, at least I know what the hell I’m celebrating.  It’s unfortunate how many Irish wannabes and, even worse, Irish descendants haven’t a clue what their ancestors went through.  Worse yet, most don’t care.  They just like the excuse to drink.  The only reason St. Patrick’s Day continues to thrive is, in my opinion, because of its association to booze.  Why do you think St. Joseph’s Day isn’t a big deal in the States?  Why is Cinco de Mayo a hit  but Chinese New Year isn’t?  It’s the booze.  The ignorant masses just want to drink.  Any excuse.  If you asked them what they were celebrating and why, I bet they wouldn’t be able to explain.  Bah humbug to that!

So roll on my Irish loving friends!  Have a fun (responsible) time but remember what the day is about.  Sláinte!

*I put Wicca in quotations because I’m coming to the conclusion that, while I read about it and attempted to practice Wiccan liturgy, I wasn’t really a Wiccan.  This has nothing to do with initiation or anything.  I simply wasn’t living a Wiccan life.  I called myself one, but I was more akin to a Catholic who rarely prays and only goes to church on Easter.  I should expand on this in a future entry…

**It’s obviously more complicated than this.  There are other stories the Patrick myth has grown out of, and people do love to perpetuate falsities or hyperboles.

*** It’s still a Catholic holiday and has a history of solemnity in Ireland.  I’m not Catholic, don’t care to celebrate the St. much, and prefer to let Catholics do their thing in peace.

**** Before anyone points this out, yes I’m aware this was facilitated by skin color.

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The Watertown Irish Festival

My husband and I went to the Irish Festival in Watertown this afternoon.  I went to it with low expectations thanks to what other people had told me and, even though it wasn’t quite as bad as they made it seem, it wasn’t as good as the Great American Irish Festival near Utica.

I’ll start with the good.  I got to see Merry Mischief perform and I really enjoyed seeing them.  They’re a favorite pair of minstrels that frequent the Sterling Renaissance Festival and have been to a few Pagan festivals as well.  I love a good Irish ditty, and its even better when there are Pagan themes snuck in!  I also enjoyed seeing the local Irish step dancers (I should try that sometime…) and listening to new Irish bands.  There were a few vendors and it’s always nice to see Pagan wares – tarot, ogham sticks, fairy statues, etc…  It was fun to get out and go to an event in my new home city.

That said, there was a lot to be desired from something in its 25th year.  The location was crowded and it was really, really hard to find a parking place.  GAIF, near Utica, has its Irish fest on fair grounds, meaning there’s ample parking and plenty of room.  I understand that Watertown probably wants their festivities close to St. Patrick’s Day, but Utica has theirs near Lughnasadh, the traditional gathering of the tribes in Ireland.  There are more cultural activities at the Utica event, including language lessons, Irish dog breed exhibits, dance lessons, and even an Irish mass.

Really, I think I would have liked it better were it in a more convenient location.  The building was just too small.  The main stage, on the 11th floor, felt so claustrophobic that we decided not to stay for the main act.  Will I go next year?  Maybe.  It’s okay for a few hours and, like I said, it’s always fun to get out and do *something*.  I hope there are improvements in the future.

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When we look back at our past,  it’s often easy to see the obvious sign posts we passed on our way to the present.  I’m one of those who believes that I was always a Pagan – I just didn’t realize it until the age of 17 or 18.  My father raised me to be respectful of fire, an independent thinker, and a survivor.  My mother raised me to be a third generation feminist, to believe in magic, love nature, and appreciate the world around me.  They both taught me how to be creative.  They planted the seeds of animism and nature worship in me.  The Catholicism they raised me in, with its archaic rituals and saints, acted as a gateway to polytheism.  My mother kept a small altar to St. Theresa of the Roses in her room, prayed to St. Francis to protect animals, and encouraged me to ask St. Anthony for help whenever I lost something.   Though conversion can naturally have a certain amount of uncertainty and fear attached to it, I’m sure it helped make praying to the Old Gods easier.

  My Catholic, genealogy-obsessed grandfather would probably never understand if I attempted to tell him how much his interests impacted the conversion I went through in my late teens.  Only, it would take me a few years to understand the importance of ancestors.  As I studied Wicca, I thought of my ancestors as much as I would in Catholicism.  They came before me.  Some of them lived a long time ago practicing a foreign, ancient religion and I had a vague idea that this was somehow important spiritually.  They died.  They went somewhere else.  Wicca and Catholicism honored them once a year – Samhain or All Souls Day.  Pick your faith and pick your holy day.

Druidism looks at ancestors a bit differently than Wicca.  We strive to remember them daily.  We venerate them.  We may even set up altars to them – and not just on Samhain (when we believe the ancestors are able to return to this realm for a time).  Their importance to us lasts all year long.  Many of us believe that, given their connection to us, ancestors are sometimes more concerned with our wellbeing than the Gods.  The Gods may be busier than the ancestors.  Ancestors may be in the Otherworld/Spirit World most of the time, but I and others believe we share some sort of emotional/psychic link with them.

   I’ve never asked my grandfather why he’s so interested in genealogy – I really should.  I suspect he would say something about how the past is important because it’s where we come from.  I agree.  However, I’m going to bet that it would end there.  Maybe -maybe- he has some spiritual ideas about it as well.  Maybe he looks forward to meeting them in heaven, impressing them with what he knows, and interrogating them for all the missing links.  Why have I become interested in it?  I feel that our ancestors are connected to us spiritually.  They want to help us and, maybe, they’ve “been there and done that” and don’t want to see us make similar mistakes.  Grandparents care about their children so, if you believe in an afterlife, it makes a lot of sense that a great, great grandparent would care about you as well.  To our ancient ancestors, family and tribe were extremely important.  They meant survival.  We’re linked to them – perhaps they’re even in us.  Perhaps we are them reborn.  I have small intuitions about these things but, in the end, I must remain largely agnostic.

Still, it’s strange how the ancestors reach out sometimes.  Over the Yule/Christmas season, I visited my family near Utica.  I made a point to visit my grandparents and I found out that my prolific grandfather was working on yet another history book – this one more personal than the rest which investigate the annals of small, Upstate NY towns.  He showed me the massive pile of pages chronicling his research on our ancestors – my ancestors on my father’s side.  We talked for some time about it.  All these years he’s been talking about the earliest recorded male in our family, John, and suddenly I started to learn about his wife, Susan(a).  Why hadn’t I ever thought about her before?  At the time, he told me where she was from but I wasn’t familiar with it – I only knew that it was in Northern Ireland.  (That’s where John met her while he was serving military time in British occupied Ireland.)

A month went by since learning of her.  The other night I decided to email my grandfather to see how his project was going.  I also wanted the name of Susan’s hometown for further research.  Today, in the mail, I discovered a CD version of the book.  Can you imagine my amazement at receiving such a gift a few hours after inquiring?  It is as if we were on a similar wavelength or Susan was guiding us.  Here it all was – every known record of my family, including my most recent Irish foremother.

Here she is, Susan (at some point she dropped the “a” at the end of her name).  At least, this is believed to be the only photo of her. *

She looks so ghostly in the blotchy, black and white photo, but it’s not a fearful feeling for me.  It’s more like…  I sense her looking back at me through the ages.

The more I read, the more the pieces click into place.  She’s from Armagh which, according to what I’ve been reading, was the ancient capital of Ulster.  Ulster!  To someone who is enamored with ancient Ireland, that’s a big deal.  I’m not about to spout nonsensical claims of being related to Cúchulainn or anything daft like that – it’s simply exciting to find some small connection to the place I’ve been reading about, loving, and yearning to see.  I can claim some small connection to that magical land!

What makes the story even more interesting to me is that Susan and John immigrated from Ireland to Canada and, form Canada, settled in Watertown, NY – meaning they lived around my new home turf!  My grandfather found her gravestone a few years ago.  I intend to find it myself this summer.  I would also love to go to Armagh when my husband and I finally get to Ireland.  I would love to bring a stone back and build a small cairn on her grave.  Would my presumably Christian ancestor appreciate veneration from a Pagan descendant?  Who knows.  I remain agnostic about the afterlife and whether or not it transcends religion or accommodates it all.  Perhaps she would just be happy to have a bit of her home turf and some attention from someone who still finds her wisdom important.

* LJ friends, check my blog at http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/

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A couple years ago I was attending a Wicca 101 class lead by my good friend Katrina. At this time I had already left Wicca for Druidism, but I felt the desire to attend her class for various reasons: friendship, a hope to learn something different, a new perspective, and an excuse to practice my meditation skills. One of the biggest things I got out of the class was a newfound understanding of the Wheel of the Year and its connection to the land and agriculture. Intellectually I realized that certain foods were connected with the seasons and were therefore symbolic of the holidays. It wasn’t until her discussion on food and the High Days that it dawned on me – eating, especially to someone on an Earth-centered path, is an incredibly spiritual act!

That lesson, combined with my desire to be more sustainable and ecologically responsible, has lead me to seek out different ways of eating and cooking. My husband and I have cut out most of the HFC in our diet. We’re now trying to limit the amount of corn we have. Basically, if we don’t expect corn to be in the product but it shows up on the list, we don’t buy it. This means no more Kraft Mac and Cheese or Smuckers jam! In other words, we’re attempting to avoid processed foods while simultaneously starting to boycott big business farms/monocultures . We still buy veggie burgers but we don’t eat them often and I’m moving more towards making my own out of lentil, nuts, and bread crumbs. We’ve been religiously buying organic, naturally sweetened cereals. Our snacks are pickled veggies, fruit, nuts, and dries berries from the Mennonites and Amish. (I like to keep a dish full of nuts on the coffee table for snack attacks.) Trying to wean myself off the Veggie Bootie… I loves it… I may make it a weekend treat. Hubby still likes his chocolate syrup too… Baby steps, right?

Anyway, I was thinking more about our desire to be more supportive of our local farmers’ market and how that means, for the most part, eating within season. What’s available at the market right now? Eggs, preserves, onions, squash, and potatoes, potatoes, potatoes! We already have tons from a future in-law.

So eating in the winter means eating potatoes. Who ate a lot of potatoes? My Irish ancestors, of course! In fact, our rotund starchy friends have been a staple of the British Isles as a whole for decades. It only makes sense to look to them for inspiration. During my lunch break today I started to collect different potato recipes – Irish, British, and “Newish.”

Tonight I’m trying my hand at Cornish pasties. I remember loving them when in Penzance. I only had a couple, but I’ve always meant to try making them myself. My first batch isn’t really anything spectacular, but if I continue to practice I’m sure I’ll get better at the construction. Next on the list is vegetarian shepherds pie.

Oh, and my hubby makes some pretty mean homemade French fries.

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