Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘folklore’

20141021-163443.jpg

My first jar of elderberry syrup. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

My little family is feeling under the weather, so I figured it was time to finally try my hand at making elderberry syrup. It’s an old herbal remedy to help prevent and cope with colds*. I followed Mountain Rose Herbs’ video recipe.  As the mixture simmered, the divine aroma of berries, cinnamon, ginger, and clove wafted through the home.  So not only can it help internally, but this simmering syrup will add a festive atmosphere to your abode when you may otherwise feel blah.  According to European folk tradition, elder has been used to ward off negative spirits.  So think of cooking it as a sort of spiritual fumigation.  Yet another way to create a purifying fragrance without the use of incense during the winter months?  Hmmm…

As for the syrup itself, it’s delicious.  A whole cup of local honey will do that!  Even my little Bee enjoys a teaspoon here and there…

*It is not meant to replace stronger medicines should the need arise.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Film poster. (Fair Use)

 

Many of my favorite anime titles involve spiritual elements.  The Hayao Miyazaki films, such as My Neighbor Tototor and Princess Mononoke, were greatly inspired by animistic beliefs native to Japan.  The interaction between the human and spirit world are important elements to the stories, and I find a lot to compare to Druidism – old and new.   Someone online suggested to my husband that we check out A Letter to Momo.  While watching the preview, we couldn’t help but compare it to Miyazaki’s style.  It wasn’t just the whimsical art or the coming of age story – it was the thin line between this world and the next.  We had to watch it.

In the film, a young girl named Momo is dealing with the unresolved argument she had with her father right before his untimely death.  The dramatic change in her life, and her need to adjust, are made concrete when she and her mother move to the small island of Shio, where her grandparents live.  Along for the ride are three spirits on a mysterious mission.  Unlike just about everyone else around her, Momo can see them.  While this chance encounter with the Otherworld creates (often comical) challenges, it ultimately helps both Momo and her mother heal.

One element that intrigues me with A Letter to Momo, and indeed the same element that helps to endear Miyazaki films to me, is the proximity between this world and the spirit world. Set on a rural island, there are scenes at shrines, examples of ancestor veneration, and discussions of Japanese mythology.  The spirits, comparable to Irish lore, are neither totally benevolent nor malicious – they simply are.  They have their own histories, motivations, biases, and faults.  What separates them from the humans they interact with are their powers and Otherworldly jobs.  The three take a shining to Momo in part because of how she comes to interact with them – which includes some offerings of food.   Less obvious but still there, mixed in with all the modern farming equipment, phones, and Japanese snack foods, are little spirit homes people built once upon a time.  One of the major scenes of Momo features an old community tradition in which the families send straw boats with lanterns that they made as offerings into the sea.  I’m assuming it is part of the Japanese Obon celebration, a festival for the dead.  It’s never really explained – it’s just there, part of the culture.  The movie’s purpose is not to explain Japanese customs and beliefs to curious Americans, after all.  They just exist, as they have existed in some way for generations, embedded in the story.

In watching these films, so full of Japanese customs and folklore, I can’t help but find things to compare to the living fairy faith in Ireland, or think about how things could have been if the Pagan tradition there had not been so altered by Christianity.  What can we, as modern Druids, learn from cultures who have living animistic traditions?  It’s something to contemplate after watching the film.

I highly recommend A Letter to Momo.  It’s heartfelt, humorous, and appropriate for the whole family.  It would be especially appropriate to watch near Samhain because of the ancestral veneration.

 

Read Full Post »

My husband recently encouraged me to join Reddit so that I could take advantage of the vast gardening community there. While exploring, I found a subreddit dedicted to Druidism which was where I discovered this gem – “Fable: The Lost Art of the Spoken Word.” It features many bards from the Druidic community, namely Philip Carr-Gomm. It really set a fire in my head! I hope it inspires you too.

Read Full Post »

 

Scottish folklore and superstitions – When the Song Dies – Aeon Film.

Do take a moment to watch this short documentary by Jamie Chambers about the folk traditions of Scotland.  In particular, it focuses on how old songs and places connect us to our ancestors.  There are some interesting accounts of experiences with the spirit world and the Sight.

It is wonderful to see that these beliefs still exist in the lands that so inspire us, but it is sad, too, that they are dying out.  We need to do our part to respect the cultures we learn from and preserve their traditions and language.  It is a monumental task, and not one any one person can achieve.  It must be a collective effort between all of us who practice the traditional ways – the artisans, bards, and liturgists.

Read Full Post »

I recently posted about how my mother’s insecurities carried over to me with regards to hospitality in my home.  That one small thing aside, I’ve inherited many other good and interesting qualities – her superstitions being some of them!  Growing up, my mother taught my sister and I several small folk traditions, sometimes thinly veiled in Catholicism, but sometimes not.  My mother first introduced me to sympathetic magic and divination via palm reading.  Did she think I’d ever grow up to become a witch or a Druid as a result?  I don’t think she ever thought about her folk ways in that light – they were just things her mother taught her.

Of the various ideas she passed on to me, I was taught that one shouldn’t discuss one’s dreams prior to breakfast or else nightmares may come to pass and good dreams will not.  Every so often, I try to track this belief’s origin down because it intrigues and delights me all at once.  Dreams are one of the easiest ways to access both our psyches and the Otherworld, after all.  Dreams are incubators for magic and can be prophetic.  I can’t tell where this superstition comes from with any certainty.  I’ve seen some reference Appalachia and others Turkey!  If people in Appalachia have held this belief, there’s a strong possibility it came from Scotland too.  So who knows!

I sometimes think about this superstition and its merits.  To find value in believing it, I think one also must believe in the power of dreams as stated above.  You also have to keep the power of food in mind.  Food grounds your reality.  After magical acts in covens and Druid groves, people are encouraged to eat.  Some magical groups share cakes and ale right in the circle.   ADF Druids share a drink in a round of toasting and boasting.  This practice feels twofold to me.  It’s both a communal way to absorb the blessings of the rite, but it’s also a way to ground  after the big workings and/or offerings have taken place.  After ritual, many regroup for feasting which equals more food.  Food fills our bellies and keeps us firmly rooted in this realm, this space, this reality.  Think about it.  One method to enter trance is to fast and therefore lose touch with our body’s hold on us.  In Greek mythology, if you eat the food of the underworld (another realm) that becomes your reality.  The same happens in Celtic legends of the Otherworld.  If you happen to find yourself in Fairy and partake of the feast, you’ll lose yourself in that reality.  Food is power – it is a great mental and physical anchor.

Perhaps it is this thinking that gave birth to the dreams and breakfast superstition.  To reveal dreams before properly grounding yourself in a new day in this reality, you leave a small door open.  Some, like my husband, only chuckle and shake their heads.  I wonder if my daughter will embrace the superstition as her mother and her mother’s mother, or if she will grow up shaking her head like her father.  Either way, I’ll keep the practice alive.  Why take chances?  It’s not as if the practice is disrupting my life in any way.

Read Full Post »

Before I get into pregnancy and childbirth lore from old Ireland and Scotland, please note that I don’t necessarily embrace or endorse these beliefs.  As a modern Druid, I seek to know how my ancestors – Pagan and Christian – lived before things became very industrialized and modern.  While some folk practices are seemingly out-of-touch or misinformed, they are, at the very least, helpful in understanding our ancestors’ way of thinking which can help us to understand other practices.  At the same time, some folk practices remain very valid – if not medically, then at least spiritually.  Just as many other Neo-Druids and Celtic Reconstructionists, I only revive what I feel makes the most sense to my modern brain, or to inform possible experimentation with new practices and interventions like  the medicine of today.  Family or friends who are not practicing animists and/or polytheists may find the information in this post alarming, but rest assured that, while I live a magical life, I do so as a modern woman who thinks and acts as she feels best, and who doesn’t simply adopt a practice just because it’s old and esoteric.

Awhile ago, I shared a link  to Woden’s Wandering Witch  in which the author examines some Irish lore relating to pregnancy.  It is definitely a good read, but it left me wanting more. Surely there must be more!  Oh, but it’s difficult to dig up anything on this subject!  Part of the difficulty is that much of what we do know relates to fosterage, the common practice in Ireland where children are placed in the care of others to form familiar and/or political bonds, and good birth mothers were able to arrange this whereas bad mothers were not  (Bitel, 88).  Because the law texts were more interested in this, as well as defining the various types of marriage, we have little information about the birthmother and the childbirth process.  Therefore, we must make inferences based on the lore and rely on modern ethnographic research that took place when Christianity was in place.  Most historical books I own on the ancient Celts deal with other themes.  Some have a chapter about women, but spend most of it examining those famous examples we know from history and mythology – Queen Medb, Boudica, Brighid the Goddess, St. Brigit, Macha…  It’s difficult to find a lot of information on the every day woman or what her life was like.  The aforementioned exceptional examples of womanhood are all very well and good.  As a woman who aspires to be knowledgeable, courageous, and spiritual, of course I admire them!  Of the bunch, researching Brighid or her saintly counterpart is the most helpful in understanding the ancient Irish and Scottish concepts of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood given that she has been prayed to by women seeking help in labor (Freeman, 50) or infertility (Ó Duinn, 157).  She is often considered a mother, or foster mother, to Ireland (Bitel, 100). There are also stories about the saint acting as a midwife or wet nurse to Jesus Christ (Hutton, 135).  And let’s not forget her association with milk – although this remains a contentious subject among Celtic linguists, her festival’s name, “Imbolc” may to refer to the lactation of sheep and thus new mothers in the animal world (Hutton, 134).  There is evidence that Brighid, Goddess or Saint (a matter of perspective, often blurred seeming) was prayed to by laboring mothers, and midwives often invited Brighid to enter a home once a woman went into labor (Freeman, 55).  Prayers in Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica capture some examples from Scotland, such as “Bride the aid-woman:”

There came to me assistance,

Mary fair and Bride;

As Anna bore Mary,

As Mary bore Christ,

As Eile bore John the Baptist

Without flaw in him,

Aid thou me in mine unbearing,

Aid me, O Bride!

As Christ was conceived of Mary

Full perfect on every hand,

Assist thou me, foster-mother,

The conception to bring from the bone;

And as thou didst aid the Virgin of joy,

Without gold, without corn, without kine,

Aid thou me, great is my sickness, 

Aid me, O Bride! (71)

Carmina Gadelica actually contains a whole section on “Birth and Baptism.”  It is full of rituals, many Christainized, but the original meaning is still there.  Most are to protect the new baby from aggressive fairies.  The author observes, “When a child was born it was handed to and fro across the fire three times, some words being addressed in an almost inaudible murmur to the fire-god.  It was then carried three times sunwise around the fire, some words being murmured to the sun-god” (189).  He continues to discuss the use of water in this first rite of passage; “The first water in which the child is washed after it is born into the world, the bathing-woman puts a gold piece or a coin of silver into the vessel of water in which the child is being washed” which is supposedly done to bring the child “love of peace…love of means…love of wealth…love of joyousness by day and night…grace of goodness…grace of fortune…[and] grace of victory on every field” (189).  This old custom was followed by a baisteadh ban-ghlùin or “knee-woman’s baptism” which occurred shortly after birth, in the name of the Christian God, to protect the child’s soul (189), for it was believed that unbaptized children were not allowed into heaven.   Carmichael explains they were believed to have a spirit but not a soul –  a distinction that warranted separate burial grounds in the more remote and rocky lands beyond a church’s borders.  These graves were unmarked and called torran which meant “little mound” (190).  Morbidly interesting is the fact that people who committed suicides or murders were also placed in these burial lands (190).  Returning to the little baptism prayers, a favorite of mine is “A small drop of water,” which I think could be easily Paganized for a Druidic ceremony utilizing the Three Kindreds, the Three Realms, and the Three Hallows:

A small drop of water

To thy forehead, beloved,

Meet for Father, Son, and Spirit,

The Triune of Power.

A small drop of water

To encompass my beloved,

Meet for Father, Son, and Spirit,

The Triune of power.

A small drop of water

to fill thee with each grace,

Meet for Father, Son and Spirit

The Triune of power (221).

These prayers suggest a deep fear of Otherworldly influence when it comes to infants.  It is the same conclusion Woden’s Wandering Witch reached : many birth and pregnancy customs in Celtic lands are to protect the child.  According to Walter Gregor, author of The Folklore of the North-East of Scotland, the fairy folk had a craving for mothers’ milk and also stole human babies to pay off debts to Hell (4).  Now of course this is very Christianized, but as with many other later customs among Celtic nations, they have an essence of earlier times.  Different rituals kept the fairies away, including blessing the mother and child with bread, milk, a fir-scented candle, and a Bible.  These were placed under the mother’s pillow, or at a distance.  Gregor explains that, “A pair of trowsers hung at the foot of the bed had the same effect” (4) for some reason.  Once a woman had given birth, she was not permitted to do any work other than the most “simple” and “necessary,” and she wasn’t allowed to travel or visit with other households home to pregnant women (6).  

Similar traditions of restrictions and protection against fairies existed in Ireland.  Pregnant women were warned against attending funerals, sitting up with a corpse, or visiting graveyards due to the sensitive spiritual state of her growing baby (Franklin, 60-61).  William Butler Yeats explains the danger of fairies in his work, Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.  He describes the dreaded changelings, sick fairy children, “or a log of wood so bewitched that it seems to be a mortal pining away, and dying” (47). One way to get rid of a changeling, or to test if it was one, was to burn it on the hearth fire (47)!  This is a wretched practice when you consider the modern medical opinion that changelings were really children with disabilities!  Thankfully, Yeats explains that some changelings were exchanged peacefully once a mother realized what was going on (47).  One way of protecting infants, that is particularly interesting to this tree-hugging Druid, involves tree branches.  Apparently “a bundle of oak, ash, and thorn” should be placed in the nursery to protect babies from dangerous spirits (Franklin, 151).  Alternatively, a branch of mountain ash (rowan) tied over the cradle will protect a female infant, while alder protects males (151).  I’m imagining a very earthy mobile with a rowan or alder base…

The way mothers interacted with their babies and others was also significant.  People who complimented babies out loud were said to put them in danger, so it was suggested that mothers say “God bless” or “safe be it,” after such praise (Franklin, 149).  In her book, Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, Lady Augusta Gregory explains that pregnant women should not visit another household with a woman in labor for the labor pains may jump to her prematurely.  This suggests that our ancestors understood the danger of early labor, at least.

Speaking of labor, it was believed that ashes or coal should not be removed from household fires once the pregnant woman who lives there begins her contractions (Franklin, 84).  Locks were unlocked (Gregor, 4), which was surely sympathetic magic to help encourage the woman’s cervix to open.  Today, an expectant mother in a birth center or a hospital, rather than her home, may utilize similar symbolism by having open flowers by her bed.  If you give birth at home, many suggest redoing anything unlocked or untied once the baby is born or else negative forces may find places to hide before stealing the baby (Franklin, 85).

Modern Druids and Celtic revivalists may want to incorporate some of the above traditions into their own childbirth experience.  As noted, many of the prayers to Mary or St. Brigit can be easily Paganized.  For some examples, see the chapter “Naming and Saining the Baby” in Skip Ellison’s book The Wheel of the Year at Muin Mound Grove, ADF: A Cycle of Druid Rituals.  Protective charms, inspired by folklore or modern inspiration, may be placed around the laboring mother or the newborn.  Just remember not to forget the pragmatic concerns of having a newborn!  If you make a mobile with sacred wood or charms, be sure to hang it securely out of reach from baby!  Most modern folk don’t fear changelings or fairies spiriting babies away; rather our new demons are suffocation, SIDS, and other horrible afflictions.  Malevolent forces at work, medical complications, or a combination – whatever you believe, parents must be vigilant and mindful about what is in and around the crib.  Beliefs that women out of labor should limit their work and travel ring true today – we ladies still need to recover!  With regards to a special “baptism” or blessing for baby, mother and father may want to prepare a little prayer to say over the child when they have some privacy after birth.  A vial of sacred water may be packed away in the mother’s suitcase for just such a ritual.  However, don’t let this eclipse an even more important ritual – mother bonding and, if possible, breastfeeding the little one.   Later, when the new family feels ready, the baby can be officially welcomed into the larger family, grove, and community in a special naming ritual.

Bitel, Lisa M.  Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland.  Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.  1996.
Carmichael, Alexander.  Carmina Gadelica.  Edited by C J Moore.  Lindisfarne Press,  Hudson, NY.  1997.
Franklin, Rosalind.  Baby Lore – Superstitions and Old Wives Tales From the World Over Related to Pregnancy, Birth and Motherhood.  Diggory Press, 2006.
Freeman, Mara.  Kindling the Celtic Spirit.  Harper Collins Publishers, Inc,  New York, NY.  2001.
Gregory, Lady Augusta.  Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland.  1920.  Web < http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/vbwi/index.htm >
Gregor, Walter.  The Folklore of the North-East of Scotland.  1881.  Web < http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/nes/index.htm >
Hutton, Ronald.  The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.  Oxford University Press, Inc,  New York, NY.  2001.
Ó Duinn, Seán.  The Rites of Brigid Goddess and Saint.  The Columba Press, Blackrock, Co Dublin.  2005.
Yeats, William Butler.  Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry.  1888.  Web < http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/yeats/fip/index.htm >

Read Full Post »

The Earth is warming.  The sun is shining.  The plants are rejoicing! Ahhh…it must be time for the Summer Solstice!  It kind of snuck up on me!  Feels like just yesterday we were dancing the Maypole…

It’s hard to say what the old Celts actually did at this time of year.  Some customs seem to have been brought in by immigrants and invaders.  Others are localized festivals not celebrated on a Pan-Celtic scale.  Certain regions of Ireland, such as County Limerick, have celebrations associated with Áine.  Her influence seems to be sovereignty (big surprise), light (possibly the sun), and the Otherworld (Freeman, 178).  In some places, burning wheels were rolled down hills and used to predict whether or not there would be a good harvest (Hutton, 311).  Bonfires were common in many places this time of year (Ellison, 178).  The Manx practiced a tradition of paying rent to Manannán mac Lir, lord of the sea (179).

Some of my herbs.

At Muin Mound Grove, we tend to honor two of the Tuatha Dé Danann – Airmid and her brother Míach.  The story goes that their father, Dían Cécht, a healer God, killed Míach in a fit of jealousy for making an improved prosthetic arm for the king God Nuada (Dían had already made one of metal, but Míach’s was of flesh and bone).  From the ground in which Míach was buried, all the healing herbs grew in the shape of a man.  The herbs grew according to the body parts they could heal, thus revealing the mysteries of the plant world to his sister Airmid.  She gathered them in her cloak.  Again, Dían became mad and scattered the herbs to the wind.  Some say that this act is why we do not fully understand the magic of herbs and continue to suffer illness.  Others say that Airmid is the only one who knows their secrets.  We remember and honor Airmid and Míach at Midsummer in Upstate NY because it is when herbs start to come back to full strength in our gardens.  This is an especially important time of year for gardeners such as myself!

Airmid Mantle

Last year, I gifted my grove with a handmade Airmid mantle.  During ritual, we place herbs that we research upon the place it may heal before giving the herbs as an offering to the Nature Spirits.  Should you wish to add this tradition to your own Midsummer Rites, I suggest not putting the offerings in the fire unless you know, without a doubt, that the herbs are safe to burn.

While the herbal harvest is underway, my favorite fruit is also ready for picking here in Upstate New York: the strawberry!

I started my celebration a few days ago with some strawberry muffins.  They were so delicious that I’m making them again – heat and humidity be damned!  I used local strawberries and the basic muffin recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book.  Very easy and perfect for breakfast!

Ingredients:

  • 1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (look for local flour!  We have North Country Farms near my home!)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (I use sugar in the raw)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 beaten egg (use local if possible!)
  • 1/4 cup milk (I used almond milk both times and it worked well)
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • about 1/2 cup of chopped strawberries – halved or quartered depending on size

Grease your muffin tins.  This recipe claims to make 10-12 muffins, but they would be very tiny.  I used a six-cup muffin tin and made really large muffins.  I like them that way!  Mix your dry ingredients together in a medium bowl and create a well in the center for the liquid ingredients.  Mix the liquid ingredients in another bowl then pour it into the dry mixture all at once.  Mix together until it’s moistened yet lumpy.  Add your berries and spoon everything into your tins.  Bake in a 400° F oven for 20 minutes or until brown.  Cool and enjoy!

However you celebrate the Summer Solstice, take some time to check out what is locally available.  So many of the high days are intimately connected to the agricultural cycle, and Summer Solstice is known for the “first fruits.”  While what is happening in Upstate NY, for example, may not match up with what the ancient Celts were doing in their various regions, the most important thing is that you’re connecting with your local nature spirits and your local agricultural cycles.  Head over to your farmers’ market to explore!

My Summer Solstice  lunch today- locally made Greek yogurt with organic oats and a strawberry.  Nom!
Resources:
The Solitary Druid: Walking the Path of Wisdom and Spirit by Rev. Robert Lee (Skip) Ellison
Kindling the Celtic Spirit by Mara Freeman
The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain by Ronald Hutton

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »