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Archive for the ‘Irish’ Category

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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Blessed Beltaine, my friends!  Or Bealtaine in Irish.  I sometimes like to call it that because it just feels so good rolling off the tongue.  Anyway, I hope everyone has a wonderful day!  As has become tradition, I must post one of my favorite Jonathan Coulton songs.  FYI – it’s NSFW.  😉

http://www.youtube.com/v/gRhPeJ3uzOc&hl=en_US&fs=1&color1=0x234900&color2=0x4e9e00




What a great ditty. It always gets me happy and excited for Beltaine – in an immature, sexual kind of way. 😛 Truthfully, I’m already feeling the amorous energy associated with the day!


To get you up and moving around, here’s one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands, Omnia! I’s called Tine Bealtaine. Nothing like a great, upbeat Neo-Medeival tune to get you in the mood for one of the most important holidays in modern Paganism!


http://www.youtube.com/v/N3Wo7RBnY1Y&hl=en_US&fs=1&color1=0x402061&color2=0x9461ca

Today the husband and I are going to celebrate with our grovies at Muin Mound after attending an Earth Day celebration at The Mustard Seed in Watertown. Whatever you’re doing, be safe, have fun, and may the Kindreds bless!

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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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As you saw in my last post, I’m working diligently on the Artisan Guild study program.  I want to get into the Initiate Study Program as well and was suddenly feeling overwhelmed with the possibilities.  Kirk gave me some perspective that really helped.  I need to find a balance between the practical/experimental and the academic.  This goes for my art studies as well since I’m doing them at the same time.

I was thinking of doing Divination 1 for the ISP.  I may yet start the research components of it, but I don’t want to start the journal until I’ve created a new set of ogham and I’m planning to do that as part of my Artisan Guild study program.  So here’s what I’m thinking (bear with me if this seems complicated – it makes sense to me!):

1) Submit my working outlines to the Art Guild preceptor.
2) Use some online drawing tutorials to refamiliarize myself with perspective, scale, shading, etc…
3) Continue sketching and, eventually, create the necessary pieces for my portfolio.
4) By then I can start “Technical Competence” requirement 3 – “Single Ritual Piece,” aka my new and improved ogham.
5) Then I can use the ogham to practice divination for Divination 1.

In the meantime!

1) Start Magic 1.  I just ordered a few books to help me complete this portion:

I’m really excited to dig into these!  
2) By the time I finish Magic 1, I’ll be able to do Magic 2 and overlap the journaling with Trance 1.
3) Hopefully, after all the above work, I’ll be able to start my divination journal at this time.  
4) Throughout all of this I’ll be studying Irish, working towards the goals outlined in Indo-European Language 1.
So, yeah.  I have a *lot* of work ahead of me.  How exciting!  Seriously, I love this sort of stuff.  (Yes, I miss college already!)

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North Country Goes Green” Irish Festival From March 11-14, Watertown plays host to their annual “North Country Goes Green” Irish Festival, at the State Office Building. The festival, promising three days of constant musical entertainment, supports Project Children, raising money to bring children from Northern Ireland to Northern New York for four weeks in the summer. This year’s festival features a lineup that includes the very popular Dublin City Ramblers, The Glengarry Bhoys, Cliudan, Searson, Tartan, Seanache and The Terry Mostyn Band. Admission to the festival is $6 per person, with children 12 and under admitted free if accompanied by a parent. For additional information, visit http://www.ncirishfest.com/

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Sewing Projects

I recently posted about a doll I’ve been working on. I’ve decided that she is Sif of the golden hair – the wife of Thor from Norse mythology. While researching the linen dresses and apron skirts worn by Viking women, I started to wonder about the clothing of my own hearth culture. What did the ancient Celts wear?

One of my artistic goals for the year is to make myself an outfit to wear to rituals and festivals. I started to look through SCA resources and found some good sites with a lot of helpful information. I ordered some cream colored linen and some green flannel wool to make a léine and a brat respectively. I’m really excited about this project! It also gives me a good excuse to study embroidery to decorate the léine.

Eee! I can’t wait until my fabric arrives!

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I found out that the CUUPs group in Watertown was having a meeting last night. At first I really wanted to try and make it but then I realized how last-minute it was and decided to stay home and relax with my husband. I ended up getting on the ADF chat towards the end of the night which was a lot of fun and helped to remind me that I’m not alone, even if I’m the only ADFer in Northern NY (which it sometimes seems is the case…) We talked about the nature of deity, specifically whether or not Zeus was the same as Jupiter and Tyr, etc. It was a fun intellectual exercise but one we all agreed wouldn’t lead to any true conclusions. All the same, I believe that such discussions are important. They force us to contemplate our faith and even question it. This, I believe, helps to ward off stagnation and unflinching dogma.

Somehow, we ended up talking about the Fomoire, I admitted that I had an interest in them, in particular Bres. In much of the lore I’ve read, he is Brighid’s husband. Unfortunately, he turns out to be a horrible king. Bres is part Fomoire and part Tuatha de Dannan. He decides to enslave the de Dannans and favor the Fomoire. He was also not very hospitable which, to the ancient Irish, was a big no-no. After a war, The Fomoire are defeated and Lugh gets the secrets of agriculture from former king Bres. It’s a trade – Bres’ life for, basically, the secrets of taming nature.

I explained to my fellow ADFers that, while I’ve not made tribute to him and do not worship him, I have an interest. Perhaps I can compare it to the interest people have in someone like Iago from Othello. He’s the antagonist and I can’t help but wonder at his motives. More importantly, I wonder at Brighid’s relationship with him. Yes, in the myths, it was most probably symbolic of a political marriage and, perhaps, sovereignty. But, if the Gods have feelings like us, how did she feel? If it’s all just a metaphor, what does it mean to people devoted to Brighid? What does it mean to a feminist to worship a Goddess who married an asshat? Was he always like that? We know she invented keening when their son was killed. But that’s it. Brighid is such an important Goddess to me that I can’t help but wonder at it all.

Anyway, shortly after the chat I went to bed and I had a horrible dream. In the dream, I became aware of a shadowy figure watching me through the windows at night. No matter where I went he (because I somehow knew it was male) knew and fallowed. At some points he was just a silhouette behind a blind. Other times I felt his presence. Then there were times when he seemed to be reaching through the windows from the darkness. It was very frightening. Finally, in an attempt to flee I got into a car with someone else (I can’t remember who – my sister, maybe) and the person/thing chased after me. The car was going and I couldn’t get the door closed. The thing was at the door, a shadow, reaching through the spaces. I woke up shortly after that.

At work I ended up daydreaming for a bit. I was thinking about the dream. I hardly ever seem to remember my dreams and I suddenly remembered the discussion on the Fomoire. Was it Bres? Or was my mind still thinking of the “Outsiders” ( the term we often use in ADF to describe the “powers of chaos” like the Fomoire or the Titans)? Did I get their attention? If so, and if I had a dream like that as a result, I don’t think I’ll ever want to think about making offerings to Bres.

Tonight, as it gets darker, I think of Brighid, my patroness, and I ask her, as I always ask her, to protect my home and me in it. I can’t help but wonder what it means to ask the wife to keep the husband out?

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