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Posts Tagged ‘Irish History’

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

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

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

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

    Happy Paddy’s Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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After many months of admiring from afar, I finally signed up with author Lora O’Brien’s Irish Pagan School. Another polytheist I admire, Morgan Daimler, recommended Lora awhile back, and I’ve been eyeing her website with interest ever since. I’m trying one of the free courses, Learn the Lore, first. They are short, based around 10ish minute readings with videos. Very manageable, especially for someone like me who is trying to revive my academic side of Druidry. I’ve kept my daily devotionals, but I really want to keep learning and reflecting. Hopefully this can yank me from my doldrums.

I’m going to try and put my reflections on here as a way to hold myself accountable, and to start blogging more regularly.

Yesterday, I read and listened to the first half of Echtra Condla. It’s a story I had read before, in one of the anthologies I possess, but hadn’t really thought much about. First of all, I love listening to Lora read. I am grateful to listen to an Irish person tell the stories, and to hear how the names are pronounced.

I was tasked to reflect on my thoughts in regards to the native, Irish lore and the Christian influence on them. Do I read the mythology specifically for the Pagan elements? Do I look for Christian allegory? Does the latter bother me? Etc.

I’m comfortable reading lore and knowing that there is a Christian layer. It would be wonderful if we had unadulterated, native Irish mythology, of course, but I’m glad to have what we have. It creates an interesting puzzle. I may not catch all the Christian influence, but I feel that the Pagan elements are so strong that to simply dismiss tales like Echtra Condla would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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My dairy-free crepes turned out well! I didn’t have any lemon to squeeze over them, but I prefer powdered sugar anyway. Photo by Grey Catsidhe

I’ve also found that I appreciate knowing what my more recent Irish ancestors did and believed, too. Learning their beliefs is just as important when it comes to honoring my ancestors. It seemed like no coincidence that I started this on Pancake Day. While I’m not Catholic anymore, I decided to make some thin, crepe-style pancakes to honor my ancestral traditions. (I tried a dairy-free recipe, and they turned out really well!)

I’m looking forward to day two!

 

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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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I received Irish Traditional Cooking by Darina Allen for Winter Solstice this year.  It had been on my wish list for awhile, so I was really excited to get it.  I’m enjoying it immensely!  While there are, of course, many meat-based dishes, there are a surprising number of vegetarian recipes too!  Some non-vegetarian dishes are easy to change – it’s just a matter of swapping broth.  If I get really creative, I’m sure I could experiment with using homemade seitan too…

One reason I added this to my wish list is because reviews praised its inclusion of history and culture in addition to recipes.  So far, I’m not disappointed. Guest food historians add context to the recipes, and excerpts from a variety of food manuscripts provide further insight.  There are recipes representing various generations and social classes.  There are comforting, affordable farm recipes, foods that require French techniques expected by the rich Anglo-Irish landowners, and (much to my delight), recipes inspired by trade with India.  What is considered traditional changes with each generation, after all.  I’m also enjoying the bits of Irish language included.  As I read this book, I’m not just browsing recipes – I’m exploring an important part of my ancestral culture.  From just my grandfather’s research, I had poor farmer ancestors from Munster Co., and Anglo-Irish ancestors from Ulster Co.  I really want to explore as much as I can.

I won’t try all of the recipes due to my dietary choices, and certain selections will depend on my ability to procure ingredients that aren’t common to American markets.  As I scanned ahead, I noticed a chapter on wild ingredients, which is really exciting but could be challenging.  I’ve never cooked with seaweed outside of attempts at Japanese cuisine, for example.  We shall see!  I hope my readers don’t begrudge my desire to blog about my experiences.  Out of respect for the cook book’s author, I will not share the recipes – just my reflections.  If you’re as interested in Irish food and culture as I am, I hope you’ll consider purchasing it for yourself!

As it’s winter, starting with some soups seem appropriate!  Off to write my grocery list and think about brothchán – broth!

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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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When we decided to try having a baby, my husband and I were well aware of the fact that doing so would mean putting some of ourselves aside (at least for a little while).  We must re-prioritize how we spend our excess money and time.  Traveling will be a little difficult for a few years.  Spontaneous nights out at the movies will stop until the little one is old enough to come along (here’s hoping there are some good children’s movies in the making!).  I’d like to think I’ll still be able to do the crafting I like, but even now my energy levels aren’t what they usually were. Any sewing or fiber work I’ve done has been for the baby or my future niece (although I did take time to make my friend Corinne a pair of owl earrings).  I don’t see that changing any time soon.  My desire to vend has vanished for the time being. I’m planning to “close” my certificate of authority allowing me to sell at craft fairs.  I will probably make more pieces to put in the ADF store or other local shops in the area, but I’m no longer taking consignments.  Any free time I have to craft, I intend to spend it expressing myself just how I want, making things for the protogrove, or for my baby.

A fellow blogger, Octopusdance, wrote about “Pagan Monasticism” the other day and it got me thinking.  I remember a younger me wishing I could just go away from the rest of society and focus intently on my spiritual path.  I would spend my time in a self-sufficient community of like-minded individuals.  We would grow and prepare our own food, tend a garden sanctuary to the Nature Spirits, make our own tools, teach each other our specialties, commune with the Spirit World, meditate, and study.  And of course, nights would be spent around the fire telling stories, singing songs, and drinking our own homemade meads, ales, and wines.

What a dream, right?  Now, initially I was thinking of such places as child and spouse-free because, let’s face it, family creates distraction.   Monastic life couldn’t be for me, at least not in this life.

Then something dawned on me.  I was thinking of a deeply spiritual life through the lens of Christianity and Buddhism.  I suddenly recalled reading about the ancient Druids’ ability to marry and have children (Ellis, 82).  Indeed, Irish stories are full of Druids having liaisons and children, and the Gods themselves were constantly trysting and marrying.  Why would the Druids limit themselves if they didn’t want to?  Now, of course, we know the ancient Druids held a high place in society.  Fosterage was probably a common practice among them just as it was with other high ranking families.  There’s evidence that Medieval Irish children were given to foster parents around the age of seven (Bitel, 86).  Did this practice exist among the ancient Druids?  If it did, seven year olds are far more independent than infants.  If a female Druid had a baby, did she take a break?  Were her duties lessened?  Did the community help her?  We may never know.

And yet, perhaps we modern Druids can continue to be (or at least try to be) deeply spiritual while acting as parents.  It’s not monastic life, but then again, we modern Druids have embraced an idea of reveling in all of life’s blessings (within moderation) rather than denying them to ourselves.  Parenthood is just another joy to be experienced, another lesson to be learned, and another way of experiencing the Kindreds.

So, no, I don’t see myself sacrificing my spiritual life.

Northern Rivers Protogrove remains a priority to me.  It doesn’t rank as high as the baby, of course, but I set this whole thing in motion last year with the study group and I don’t intend to see it fall on its face.  Thankfully, everyone involved is also very dedicated and very supportive of my pregnancy.  My protogrove sisters are excited to help plan a Mother Blessing ceremony for me, and I am hoping to having a baby saining ritual later in the year.  I have confidence in them that if I ever need to be absent from a rite, they will perform beautifully!  I’ve even had offers from nearby ADFers to come and help with a summer High Day should I not feel up to it as I approach delivery.  Even after the baby is born, we plan our rites ahead of time.  I’m sure a family member will be able to babysit for a few hours while we celebrate.  Bringing baby to workshops, study sessions, and business meetings won’t deter me.  I’m hoping to carry baby close, and my husband can easily take a fussy babe away for a moment if needed. Thank goodness for Weretoad!  Thus I intend to remain a facilitator and “priestess type figure” for my little community.  I do not, however, intend to become clergy anytime soon.  I will continue to work on my Initiate Study Program to better serve my community and deepen my spiritual practices, but the clergy training program, and the demands of clergy responsibility, are a bit beyond me right now.  Those are goals for later in life.

But what about my personal practices?  I guess I won’t really know until the baby arrives.  I’ve read and heard that the first few weeks are the hardest.  My world will revolve around the baby and recovering.  I imagine any energy I have left could go towards a prayer before my altar or a lit candle on Brighid’s shrine.  Seems appropriate.  After that, I may just set aside some time each week, like a Saturday morning, for meditation and ritual.  I am hopeful that I can continue my daily devotionals.  Things may be a bit touch and go for the first year or so, but I imagine it will settle out eventually and I’ll be able to have a routine again.  It will be a new routine, but it will exist.

My life as I knew it is going to change – already is changing – and some things must be sacrificed for the new life I’m bringing into the world – at least for a little while.  Yet I don’t intend for my spirituality to be one of them.  If anything, I can see the baby strengthening my Druidism.

I guess only time will tell!

Bitel, Lisa M.  Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland.  Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY.  1998.

Ellis, Peter B.  A Brief History of the Druids.  Carroll & Graf Publishers: New York, NY.  2002.

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Feet in Clayton, NY

Hubby and I relaxing in the St. Lawrence River, 2011.  Each year, my relationship with the local spirits strengthens. – Photo by Weretoad.

Sometimes, I ponder my path in relation to my location and nationality. There are times when I can’t help but wonder if my Druidism is somehow “less connected” than if I were actually living in Ireland, Scotland, England, Cornwall, etc…  Am I less connected to the Tuatha de Danann who are so intimately intertwined with the land of Ireland?  What of the myriad of other unseen spirits connected to Ireland?  And what of the spirits native to America and living cultures who still work with them?  When I make offerings to the Local Spirits, am I talking to spirits who followed my ancestors from their homeland, the Native spirits who dwell here, or both?

This post from August, particularly the last paragraph, had me thinking about it once more.  Are we, the descendants of Celtic and English diaspora, trying to overcompensate in the form of Celtic Reconstructionism and its methodology?  The seed of ADF was planted in America.  Although it is an international Druidic organization, the girth of its membership continues to be in America.  Compare ADF to OBOD, as John Michael Greer did and you’ll notice some interesting differences.  Having been a member of OBOD for a few months* I came to the conclusion that its rituals were more similar to Wicca, although still very beautiful!  So what does it mean when the biggest Druidic tradition in the UK feels more like Wicca compared to the American-born ADF with it’s reconstructionist methods?  As Greer notes, neither tradition is “real Druidism” as in historically handed down from the ancients.  Similarly, both address different needs and can be combined.  Indeed, some folks on the ADF e-lists were just discussing how they’ve successfully combined ADF and OBOD in their personal lives.

But let’s move beyond the organizations because, when it comes down to it, the bulk of a modern Druid’s time is spent in his or her home and environment.  What about living modern, American Druidism?  You know – connecting to the spirit world in all we do every day.

When you start studying the folk beliefs of the Celts, it becomes clear how location-centered it is.  Well X has a being associated with it.  The spirit of Well X lives in Well X, not Well Z over in America.  At least, so the old beliefs would make it seem.  The Ancient Celts did migrate, and some deities seemed to travel with the tribe.  Peter Berresford Ellis writes, “There are over 400 names of Celtic deities, male and female, recorded but the vast majority would appear to be local deities, tribal gods and goddesses.  However, that leaves some hundred or so who are to be found throughout the Celtic world; indeed, many of the deities are clearly the major deities of the Celts” (160).  What this says to me is that the tribal deities, beings like Lugh, Brighid, and An Dagda, are concerned with humanity and open to communication regardless of location.  My theory has been that, by creating welcoming altars, we create a means of communing – a “spirit phone” or a “guest house”.  But the spirit of Well X?  He or she is only reached at his/her well.  Make a pilgrimage and visit, be inspired by that well’s lore, but otherwise you must find new well spirits in the “New World.”

But who are these American spirits?  Nature Spirits?  Gods?  Demigods?  Nature Spirits elevated to some Godhood status through increase worship thus power?  Are they Native or immigrants like our ancestors?  The answer seems to be, “It’s complicated.”

Arch Druid Emeritis of ADF, Rev. Skip Ellison, presented a workshop called “The Fairy Races of the British Isles” a few years ago in Utica, NY.  He explained the various beings and how to work with them, of course, but he also shared his theory with regards to the question above.  Ellison postulates that some spirits emigrated with the diaspora.  It makes sense if you consider beings attached to tribes or households.  Why wouldn’t they follow the people they have a relationship with?  Ellison suggests they settled where their humans settled.  If so, is there antagonism between those spirits and the Native?  If spirits mate, did they mate with Native spirits?  Is thinking this horrendously disrespectful to Native American cultures?  Add to that the reality that the Ancient Celts would take up worshipping the spirit of the rivers they settled near, what do us modern practitioners do in America?  I feel very drawn to the rivers I live near, particularly the St. Lawrence.  Before their lives and traditions here were disrupted by white settlers, the Iroquois who lived in the North Country called the Thousand Islands “The Great Spirit’s Garden” and considered it a sacred hunting ground (Jacox and Kleinhans, 7).  When I go to honor the spirit of the St. Lawrence, am I disrespecting Native culture?  The Ancient Celts saw rivers as female spirits, and I have felt similarly about the St. Lawrence – but is that just my intellectual assumption or genuine unverified personal gnosis?  It is difficult to find information on Native beliefs surrounding the river.  Did they believe it to have a guardian spirit?  Was it female or male?

Once more, the answers seem complicated, and I suspect my perspective will grow and evolve as I learn and practice more.  Despite the uncertainties, it feels important for me to connect to this land.  My time spent in England, Cornwall, and Ireland was precious.  I felt a deep reawakening, a feeling of ‘coming home’ in some ways, and a connection to the history and my ancestors there.  When I went to Ireland, I could not help but wonder if my ancestors who left it all those years ago for a chance at a new life were looking at her again through my eyes.  When I visited ancient, sacred sites, I felt that I was visiting the oldest and most favored “homes” of the Gods I love.  Yet when I returned to Upstate NY, although the Nature Spirits have their own personality, the Old Gods I strive to honor were still there to listen.

In this month of October, as we move towards Samhain, I am going to explore, research, and reflect on my relationship to the ancestors.  I cannot do that without considering my place as the descendant of the diaspora who came here over a century ago.  Without a doubt, it influences my Druidism.  The question is how?  I hope you’ll join me in my thoughts and discussion.

* I left OBOD because the study program was too expensive for me and, as Greer’s article points out, it’s a huge part of the organization.  There are also fewer groups in America.  Community is important to me, and ADF just has more easily-found groves in the US.  I may look into OBOD down the road when I have more funds, especially because their approach is so beautiful and lyrical.

Ellis, Peter Berresford.  The Celts: A History.  Carroll & Graf Publishers, NY: 2004.
Jacox, Helen P. & Kleinhans Jr., Eugene B.  Thousand Island Park: One Hundred Years, and Then Some.  Valhalla Printing Co, T.I.P., NY: 1975.

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