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Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

It’s interesting to look back to last summer. At this time, we were preparing to make an offer on our home. We were heading into new territory and some of the worst stress I remember experiencing. It was a lesson on patience and austerity, that’s for sure, but it was worth it. Here we are, a year later, transforming our yard into beautiful gardens, shrines, and pollinator habitats. (And a few play areas for the little one!) Last summer was all boxes and uncertainty. This summer, as I stand on my porch to gaze at the small batch of abundance I’ve been cultivating, I feel a sense of peace. I feel that I’m  rediscovering my niche after a long period of stress and flailing.

My nasturtiums are very happy in their herb spiral garden home.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018.

Having the freedom to garden as I desire has been wonderful. Even when I returned home from work riddled with stress and fatigue, a little time in the garden always restored my connection to the Kindred and my own sense of self. Working to form a lasting relationship with this new land has been rejuvenating. It’s reawakened my love of herbalism, and I’m throwing myself back into my casual studies with gusto!  Just a couple months ago, it seemed summer was a distant dream.

I inherited my late grandfather’s map of Ireland and related books.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018.

I’m looking forward to furthering my Druid studies this summer. When I visited my family in the Utica area, these heirlooms from my late grandfather seemed to further point me toward that. He worked tirelessly on my family’s genealogy, something I didn’t appreciate until I was older and started to honor my ancestors. My sister told me she felt my taking these would make him happy, and as I walked around the hallow home where he lived and died, I spoke to him of my intentions, and I got a strong sense of approval.

In addition to the map and books, I also picked up some old artwork for my home, and was given permission to transplant some plants in my garden. I brought some of my grandmother’s lily of the valley for the shade garden, and some comfrey for my herb garden. The lilies seem to be taking well. The comfrey looks a tad wilted with the stress of the move. I’ve not lost hope, though. I’ve read they are quite prolific, and even a little section of root can grow. This particular plant is one of the first that my grandmother, an herbal enthusiast herself, taught me about, so if I can establish a patch from her own garden, it would be very meaningful to me.

Burning grove offerings in my backyard fire pit.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2018.

Speaking of Druid studies, my grove is growing strong! My friend and grovie, Cassandra, lead our Summer Solstice ritual. We honored Manannan, and asked him to help us as we reestablished our open doors to communities who need safe places, such as the LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities. It was a moving ceremony, but also one with much joy and laughter. Some of our members identify as part of the former community, including one of our elders who proudly told us about some of the first Gay Pride marches he attended.

It was a rainy day, so we held the ritual indoors. I brought many offerings meant for the fire to my home, and I made sure they got to their intended destination last night under the light of a waxing moon. I poured a libation to Brighd to help me with the work – the work of a Senior Druid. Hearing the way Northern Rivers Grove has positively impacted people gives me so much hope. I’m working to improve my practice so that I can serve my community.

As I reflect on where I was at this time last year, I feel excited for the relative peace this summer promises.  I will continue to work with my new plant allies and the land spirits.  I will throw myself further into my Initiate Studies with ADF.  Right now, I’m working on Trance 1 and Divination 2, but I know I will have to augment some of the previously completed courses as the whole study program is undergoing change.  It’s all good, though.  It will all help me become a better Druid and a better person in general!

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Homemade Pan Boxty – Photo by Grey Catsidhe

It’s been awhile since I tried anything new from Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen.  I made boxty pancakes before, but I decided to try making pan boxty today.  Unlike the former, pan boxty only utilizes fresh grated potatoes.  I didn’t have any mashed potatoes sitting around.

According to Allen, this dish came about in response to famine and poverty.  By grating and then squeezing the moisture out of the potatoes, our Irish ancestors were able to use potentially rotten spuds that wouldn’t work in other dishes.  Pan boxty is dense, crispy, and filling.

The traditional recipe she shared called for six “medium” potatoes.  I think the recipe was for one boxty that could be quartered…  but I was able to make three!  It didn’t specify what size of cast iron pot one should use, so you have some wiggle room when it comes to portions!  (Heck, in a recipe that calls for a “handful” of flour, you can play around…)

Despite its simplicity, boxty is not a quick meal.  You have to grate the potatoes, squeeze the moisture out, and wait for the starch and water to separate.  Each boxty cake takes about thirty minutes to cook, so if you make more than one with a small pan… be prepared to wait around a lot.

If you have the time and energy, making boxty is worth the effort!  They are very delicious, especially with some ketchup (is my mutt American upbringing showing?). The effort they take will keep us from overindulging in these thick, buttery, crispy, potato treats, but I see myself making them whenever I have more potatoes than I know what to do with!

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In case you haven’t been following the news, Ireland has all but officially just became the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote!  And wow – by 70%!  I am very proud to have Irish heritage today.

It’s especially fascinating for me to see this after having recently finished reading Angela’s Ashes, a memoir by Frank McCourt.  While I’m normally more interested in ancient and medieval Ériu, I’ve been trying to learn more about modern Ireland.  There’s so much to wade through, but I feel that it’s important for me to better understand all of my ancestors, not just the pre-Christian ones.  McCourt’s story takes place in the early 1900’s, right up until after World War II.  It highlights an Irish family’s struggles with poverty and addiction, as well as Frank’s own coming-of-age.  Also evident are the deep wounds of English occupation, animosity between Catholics and Protestants, and religious-oriented sexual repression and guilt.  Included is a small peek into a generation’s perception on homosexuals within Ireland.  The whole story is very depressing, but an incredible page-turner.  Part of this is due to McCourt’s wry humor which translates well through his childhood point-of-view.  As I read, I couldn’t help but think of my ancestors.  The book opened with Frank’s parents moving to New York to escape Ireland’s poverty.  They came around the same time as some of my ancestors before returning to Ireland to seek help from their families.

Bullet holes from the Easter Rising at the GPO in Dublin.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2011.

Bullet holes from the Easter Rising at the GPO in Dublin. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2011.

When I visited Ireland a few years ago, I saw many reminders of where the country had been.  Not just the magnificent megalithic monuments that I was mostly interested in – but monuments to honor victims of the Great Famine and scars from events like the Easter Rising.  To see a nation, once the site of so much animosity, come together to honor love makes my heart swell.  Today, I can see and appreciate just how much Ireland has grown.  I can only understand it so much as an American removed from Ireland by a couple generations… but I am still so proud.  It’s not a perfect country, of course, but it is quite different from the one my ancestors left decades ago.

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If you live in America and have a Netflix account, you’ll be able to check out a Nature documentary called “Ireland’s Wild River.” It follows the narrator, Colin Stafford-Johnson, as he shares the beautiful Shannon River.  I watched this recently on a lazy evening while my little one napped in my arms.  The visuals are stunning and immersive.  I  caught myself wistfully sighing more than once as I imagined myself there.  Many of the documentaries I watch about Celtic lands, particularly Ireland, are concerned with history.  This program was dedicated to the plants and animals that live in and around the Shannon’s meandering waters.  While we modern folk learning about Druidism in America must explore our own local flora and fauna, it is also important that we understand the land that our ancestors came from.  We may find helpful similarities between our lands and the Nature Spirits that live here which may further inform our understanding of lore, art, holiday observations, and other folkways.  Don’t expect a lot of depth, and especially don’t look for much discussion on the old magical beliefs of Ireland, though.  However, it could be just what you need to inspire a new prayer for the Nature Spirits.  If you need to relax and have 52 minutes to lounge, why not indulge in some beautiful imagery of Ireland’s lush Shannon River?

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I recently watched “Ghosts of Murdered Kings” on PBS.  If you follow the link, you’ll be able to stream it on their website.  This documentary focuses on the research surrounding the various bog bodies that have been uncovered throughout much of Northern Europe.  I was able to see some bog bodies in person, first one at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and then in the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland (which I blogged a bit about here).  The later has several on display.  I felt a bit odd typing the previous sentence because there is something deeply humbling and even troubling to me about displaying dead bodies, especially if they were meant to be in the bogs…  But on the other hand, they have taught us so much about the Celts and their beliefs.  They also communicated something almost ineffable about mortality that stayed with me after seeing them.

“Ghosts of Murdered Kings” is another wonderful addition to the NOVA library.  It explores the most recent theories surrounding these bodies.  The prevailing theory seems to be that the bog bodies were usually royalty sacrificed to the land following poor harvests which relates back to the old ritual marriages between rulers and sovereignty Goddesses.  Even having been exposed to this theory before in history books and the National Museum of Ireland, the refresher was welcomed.  I learned several new things about how these theories came to be which gave me a greater appreciation for the scientists who work so diligently.

I recommend this documentary but caution that children might be frightened by it as it shows real corpses and features some minor dramatized violence and discussions of “triple murder” and “overkill.”  It will definitely make you reflect on the practices of our Celtic ancestors and their relationship with the natural world.  Whether such a sacrifice was or still is necessary is not the point – rather, why aren’t we taking our relationship with the land as seriously?  Each of us is married to the land whether we like it or not.  If we fail to respect her while also meeting our needs, what we will we have to give up to change the situation?  What habits should we commit to the bogs to better ourselves and society?

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A grovie recently brought a documentary on Hulu to my attention.  It’s called “The Celts” and you’re able to watch it free online!  With six fifty minute episodes, I decided to give it a go while marathon nursing my little one (growth spurt, I guess?).  Narrated by John Morgan, it spans Celtic history from that civilization’s cradle to modern times.  Because I am, admittedly, new to the Druid scene, I can’t claim this is the most accurate documentary ever made about the Celts.  I will say, however, that nothing struck me as contrary to the historical reading I’ve been doing.  There were even some fascinating tidbits that matched up with what others who have been studying longer have shared with me.  For example, I learned a lot about the salt mines in the Hallstatt region – something Michael Dangler brought to my attention in past musings about the Celts, modern Druids, and natural resources.

The documentary also asks some compelling questions such as who are the Celts?  What does it mean to be Celtic?  This question is explored in the final installment – the episode I thought would be least interesting considering it was about the modern era*.  There is no fluffiness about this series.  It teeters between respecting modern Druidic practices in Celtic nations as revivals of national pride – a way to celebration cultural and linguistic heritage in a modern way – and as anachronistic nonsense that continues to confuse modern folk about the historical facts.  Also questioned are kitschy elements that so many modern folk, especially the diaspora who make pilgrimages back to the old country, think represent the Celtic identity.  The conclusions are that defining “Celticness” is difficult to do outside of the usual reliance on linguistic groups alone.  I think all modern Druids and Gaelic polytheists who live outside of Celtic nations should check that episode out and think on it.

The best part of this production are the visuals.  Not only were there the usual views of seaside cliffs, standing stones, and rolling green hills.  I was able to delve into the aforementioned salt mines, visit a people in China who are believed to be descended from an ancient Celtic people, and examine a wide variety of artifacts in exquisite detail.  Although the music was a bit odd at times, I think they were going for a Celtic sound that wasn’t obviously Irish.  Otherwise, I enjoyed hearing different examples of Celtic languages spoken.  The episodes about modern Celts also feature some very interesting stories about how those languages were suppressed – something we should not forget about when we go to honor our ancestors in ritual!  I also really enjoyed seeing a carnyx for the first time.  I had read about them in history books and saw them illustrated upon photos of artifacts in books.  The Gundestrup Cauldron  features some, for example.  This show included a man who reconstructs and plays them.  I had read of their sound and the belief that they brought fear into enemies.  To hear one was truly wonderful!  I don’t know why I never looked them up for more detail, but here’s a start**.

I definitely recommend this documentary.  I believe it would be very accessible to people who are new to Celtic studies and Druidism, and after ten years of learning, I also got a lot out of it.  I’m sure old hats would enjoy it just as much for all the beautiful footage!

 

*This is, of course, something I want to study more to have a better understanding and appreciation for my ancestors and the hearth culture I’ve embraced.  It’s just sometimes difficult to get into because there are so many political and imperialistic aspects to wrap my head around.  I’m more intrinsically motivated to learn about the ancient Celts, their religious practices, and their customs.  I’m trying to learn more about Christian and modern Ireland in baby steps.

** Now how cool would it be for a Druid grove to have one during Lughnasadh games?

 

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A lovely green corner in Ireland. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2011.

Last year started what is clearly becoming a tradition for me.  As March is Irish Heritage month, I take it as a time to reflect on and honor the sovereignty Goddess of Ireland – Ériu.  Chelly has also been focusing on her and shares some wonderful musings in her latest post.  I was inspired and reminded of my desire to spend some time meditating on Ériu, so I shuffled my pregnant behind to my altar for some quality time with the Triple Goddess of Ireland.

My novice studies of Irish lore lead me to agree with Chelly on the nature of Ériu.  She is not to be underestimated as the Milesian Donn found out.  Yet she is also welcoming to those who honor and respect her. I certainly felt a sense of homecoming when I made it to Ireland a couple years ago.  I long to return but until I can, I must be content to connect with that bit of land at a distance.  I decided that tonight would be a good night to meditate on her and give her some offerings.

Saying my words of praise, pouring offerings, and holding a memento from her land, I slipped into a very light trance.  I envisioned myself surrounded by the mist created by the Two Powers of fire and water.  I wouldn’t let myself go too deeply as I worry about the implications of doing so while pregnant and still a novice to that practice.  My stretching belly kept me from separating too much from my body anyway.  It is taut, and breathing deeply is less comfortable than normal.  Yet I was able to visualize myself in Ireland once more.  I saw myself at Tara, saw the rolling green hills around the mounds, and the clootie tree near the hedge.

Tara in Ireland. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2011.

I found myself staring at the Lia Fáil, and suddenly Ériu was there!  I saw her as a beautiful woman with fair skin and long, wavy hair the color of sunlight on the River Boyne.  Here eyes were as brown as the dirt and she wore a gown green like the rolling hills.  She smiled at me and welcomed me back to her whenever I could come.  As a Druid in America, I often fret about working with very local deities such as Ériu, but she reminded me not to lament over the distance and that she was always part of me.  Images came to me of ancestors eating the crops from her soil, filling them with energy and life.  Some of these ancestors came to America, bringing about my existence.  They flow in my blood, blood energized in part by the land of Ireland.  What’s more, she showed me my ancestor’s grave – the ancestor buried in Watertown, NY.  The soil of Ériu became the flesh, blood, and bones of her people.  Some of those people, like my ancestor, are now in the soil here, thus intermingling with the land here in America.  “I am part of the whole world,” she seemed to say.  An Earth Mother linked to all other Earth Mothers, rolling on the globe of our greater Earth Mother.  I now imagine a circle of dancing women bringing life and change as they weave around a central bonfire, individual and yet connected always by the forces of this planet…

She faded out over the sea but left me feeling at peace and connected.

And now my baby is kicking and I think about all the ancestors, land spirits, and Earth Goddesses making up this new little one.  Are any of us really new?  Seems to me that we’re recycled.  We are a continuation – it is the hope we have that springs anew each time.

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