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Posts Tagged ‘Irish lore’

I fell behind. Workdays exhaust me, and this was a particularly demanding one since I had to stay very late one of them. I’m not giving up on this challenge, though! It may take me longer than 21 days, but it’s so good and worthwhile, I must not abandon it.

Today I read through some of Oidhe Cloinne Tuireann (The Fate of the Children of Tuireann). Lora O’Brien makes a point to discuss the importance of reading the intact lore rather than just retellings, or else one will miss important or interesting details. Many of the complex, sometimes convoluted, stories have been watered down to increase understanding, and I’m certainly appreciative of that to a point. Irish lore was overwhelming enough to me as a newcomer several years ago. Yet some authors, particularly the Victorian-era English in all their colonial wisdom, removed information that they didn’t like or felt would be difficult for an English-speaking audience to understand. Now that I’ve got a foundation, I’m ready for more. I want to improve and deepen my understanding of my Irish ancestors and the Tuatha de Danann.

Part of why I started this class was to familiarize myself with the recorded lore, as close to the original tellings as possible, and to learn about where I can find these resources. I’ve already learned so much. I had read some truncated versions of “The Fate of the Children of Tuireann,” as well as lore about Miach and Nuada, but, as O’Brien explains, some of the stories are actually mixtures of two or more texts. You have to read them all to truly comprehend the context.

Sure enough, as we delved into Oidhe Cloinne Tuireann, I was immediately exposed to new stories I hadn’t heard before, like the cat-eyed doorman. Fascinating!

In the story, Miach and another healer I hadn’t heard of, Oirmiach, enter Tara and help the king, Nuada, with an ailment. A beetle jumps out of his arm and is killed by those present. Vermin who cause illness is apparently a common motif in Irish lore – one I didn’t notice until O’Brien pointed it out. Were these details overlooked in modern retellings? Did I simply gloss over them without thinking? I don’t know.

The beetle represents illness, an impurity, and it is only recognized and located by the keen eye of the healers. Miach and Oirmiach prove themselves and their worth, much as Lugh has to do when he comes to Tara. The disease must be removed before the healers can replace Nuada’s silver arm with one of flesh. Perhaps the disease is linked to the disfigurement of the king, and the healing was necessary in order for him to truly take his place at the helm of the Tuatha de Dannan.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow and reading more of the story. Once more, I encourage you to start the challenge found at The Irish Pagan School.

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As you know, I’ve been working through the 21 Days of Lore challenge through Irish Pagan School. It’s a free course, brought to you by Lora O’Brien. I provided all the links in my first post on the subject. It feels especially meaningful to delve into Irish lore during Irish Heritage Month. As Druids and Irish-inspired polytheists, our exploration of history and mythology should not be limited to a specific time, but if you ever needed a push to get back into your studies, this has been fantastic so far.

Day 3 began an exploration of the Dinnshenchas. Thanks to the video, I finally know how to pronounce that! We looked at the poem “Berba,” then Lora instructed us to look up the River Barrow on Google maps and reflect on it.

I followed the river through what looks like farmland, fields, and even some forested areas. I noticed B&Bs, a waterfall, and trail heads. There are some places where it winds like the snake in the poem.  I moved back upwards through more urban centers, eventually losing it. Did it become another river? Google no longer labeled it after a point. Anyway, it got my little Sagittarius heart in a state of wanderlust. 

As I write my reflection, I keep pausing to look into other sources, to read about the river. I love rivers. They are an important part of my home’s ecology, history, and, yes, industry. I think of how all the waters are connected throughout the world, and how the water I see on the St. Lawrence at one point flowed through River Barrow. Perhaps I will get to see the River Barrow in person one day, and I shall think a similar thought, feeling a connection to home just as rivers in Northern NY help me feel connected, however distant, to my ancestral homeland.

Day 4, I was asked to interpret what is going on with Meiche in the poem “Berba.” We read more translations on Day 5. I hadn’t ever heard of him before. I found the story of his three hearts and the serpents to be very fascinating. It’s March, so everyone is on about St. Patrick driving snakes out of Ireland… But here we have an old story about someone (Mac Cecht) killing Meiche and destroying the snakes! Move over, St. Patrick. Leave it to An Dagda’s grandson. Others equate the snakes with plague, and I think that is an appropriate interpretation.

As for Meiche’s relationship to the Morrigan… I’m not sure. He could have been linked to her out of an attempt to equate her with evil by those who recorded the lore (as O’Brien posits). Perhaps he really was her son? A fosterling? Either way, this was all very new to me, and I’m delighted to finally delve into the Dinnshenchas and learn more about Ireland’s geography in the process!

I’ll probably have to do more multi-day posts like this. I’m very tired from a busy weekend, and Monday’s are always action-packed. In the meantime, I once more encourage you to check out this course!

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Our 2015 turnip Jack-o-lanterns. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015

In previous years, I’ve posted photos, tutorials, and even lore-based reasons for carving turnips.  It’s become a part of my family Samhain celebration. They are tough veggies to carve, even with strong, well-made spoons as I’ve suggested.

I’m proud to have resurrected the tradition in my own family. I excitedly turn them into protective talismans, warding the home against nasty spirits who may be out and about while the veil is thin.

As I exercised my muscles gouging turnip flesh out, I reflected on how tough the job is. The difficulty is not so great that it discourages me from keeping it. While thinking this, I meditated on the challenges my Irish ancestors faced: poverty, famine, immigrating across the Atlantic, leaving loved ones, and starting over in America. Carving the turnip can be a devotional act, reminding us of the difficulties our Irish ancestors faced.

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Mama and Me Corn Dollies – photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

Every so often, Pagans around the blogosphere post about whether or not various high days make sense to them based on their path or climate. I definitely agree with the need to pay attention to what your bioregion is doing at certain times of year. It’s how we learn the cycles of our local Nature Spirits, after all. However, as someone who follows an Irish hearth culture, the seasonal lore remains very important to me.  I honor three Kindreds, after all, not just the Nature Spirits.  Keeping the tradition of playing games to honor Lugh and his foster mother’s sacrifice honors the Gods and Ancestors I work with.  Perhaps if I followed a different path, one not infused with Gaelic customs and lore, celebrating Lughnasadh wouldn’t make any sense. Honestly, why people who aren’t honoring Lugh would want to celebrate some hodgepodge of Lughnasadh seems strange to me anyway…

Back to the Nature Spirits.  Referring to Lughnasadh as the first harvest festival sometimes seems a bit strange in light of the previous, smaller harvests that have been occurring.  Greens have been available since spring, and our strawberry harvest occurs around the Summer Solstice, for example.  Yet Lughnasadh marks the time when there are an incredible amount of crops to harvest.  In our neck of the woods, farm stands are loaded with tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, summer squash, plums, peaches, berries, and corn.  The latter becomes available right around Lughnasash, which is perfect for the grain-centric traditions.  While corn is a major cash crop in NY, other grains are also harvested around this time.  The oat harvest starts around now, and the winter wheat harvest finishes in August.  Thus, for someone who works with Irish cultural traditions, upstate NY is a great place to be!  I made a loaf of bread for our feast which consisted of many locally grown veggies.  My daughter and I also used the corn husks to make corn dollies. Yes, corn husk dolls are more of a New World custom, but in that we we are also learning about and appreciating the land we live on now.  We offered these to our Ancestors during ritual, thanking them for all the knowledge about the harvest that they passed to us.

My family and protogrove had a wonderful Lughnasadh celebration.  Whatever you celebrated, I hope you had a joyous time, and that you were able to connect to the Three Kindreds in a way that made sense to you and your region.

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What is a crane bag?

The answer: not hard.

The lovely Aoife was turned into a crane and lived about the seas of Manannan Mac Lir for many hard years.  When she died, the great Sea Lord took her skin and made a magical bag that could hold his most beloved treasures.  It’s said to be bottomless.

Many Druids and Celtic Reconstructionists, especially those who are called by Manannan and the symbolism of the crane, make crane bags to wear on their person.  An individual may place his or her most sacred charms and amulets inside; objects of personal power and significance.

Although my Druidic studies have slowed lately, I’ve noted a growing connection to Manannan.  The more I work with trance and magic, the more I study, he seems to nod approvingly at me.  And of course, Brighid remains an incredibly significant part of my life.  For the last few months, I’ve felt compelled by my relationships with these deities to create a devotional object to have at my labor.  Had I the ability to attempt a home birth, rest assured I would have created an altar to motherhood, my labor, Brighid, the baby, and our spirit guides.  (For some lovely examples, look here and here!)  Although some people have made some beautiful travel-friendly birth altars, making a crane bag – something relevant to my path and my Gods that I could create with a favorite hobby – seemed like the right thing for me to do.  Everything will be secure inside the bag.  I can take one item out to hold, rub, and focus on, or I can hold the entire bag.  It’s made of very soft pink velvet and feels very comforting.  Much of my reading has suggested that women hoping for a natural birth should have some sort of focal point to assist in managing pain.  A crane bag holding many special objects to focus on is just my style!  Not only that –  it’s very discreet.

My finished motherhood crane bag. I reused fabric from an old, velvet blazer and some swirling pink for the lining (not photographed).  The pink is supposed to represent my uterus.  The drawstring method seemed best since the uterus can stretch and contract. On the front, I attached three antique buttons I purchased years ago. I knew I was saving them for something special! They fit the bag perfectly. Not only do they work with the color scheme, but symbolically an open flower is supposed to magically encourage the cervix to open.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

Detail of the button I used as the clasp when the bag is tightened. A Celtic knot seemed most appropriate as it connects me to my hearth culture and gives me strength.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

Although my crane bag is not bottomless, I’ve been able to fit quite a bit in there! I included the Goddess stone from my friend RavynStar, a yonic dandelion charm (the yoni is demurely facing away from the camera), the mother blessing beads from everyone at my baby shower, a sterling silver ring (now broken but still precious to me) that belonged to my mother when she was younger, a tooth from a doe, a bracelet from my late aunt, an collage of Brighid made by a fellow ADF Druid artisan, and my baby’s first photo! Everything is very significant to me symbolically. They are to remind me of the strong women in my life, my Goddess, the Earth Mother, the creative powers within me, my own strength, my spirit guide, and the ultimate goal – a healthy, happy baby. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

I also included these lovely talismans made by fellow flame keeper and Druid, Grey Wren. She completely surprised me with these beauties! The bloodstone with coral is to give me strength during and after labor. The rose quartz is to help with bonding, peace, and love. A friend taught her to associate it with motherhood. The white chalcedony with the pearl is supposed to help with lactation and sleep.  It will also be very appropriate for baby since she is supposed to be born in the sign of Cancer – a water sign! I am thinking about attaching the last to the baby’s mobile since sleep and nutrition are going to be hugely important to her, and we’ll need all the help we can get!  It could also go with some water symbolism. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

 

A birth and motherhood crane bag is very easy to make.  All you need are some special objects that bring you comfort and courage, and a bag to put them in!  As always, I encourage you to make your own bag as you’ll put your own energy into it.  Red or pink are particularly appropriate symbolically, but choose what fits your own needs.

Have you made a birth altar or crane bag?  I would love to see it!

For More Information on crane bags:

Make Your Own Crane Bag and Discover the Purpose of the Incarnation You are Currently Living” by Elen Sentier.  A good introduction.

The Crane Bag” by Dr. John Gilbert – How one Druidic tradition utilizes this tool.

The Crane Bag” – a poem about its lore and origins from Tairis Tales.  Definitely read this for an understanding of its significance within Celtic lore.

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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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Meeting with and talking with people who think and feel differently, both online and in person, always makes me stop and consider my own perspectives.  Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen in the Other World or in your heart – it also happens in your mind, in dialog, in your relations with others.

I mentioned my friend Katrina the other day in my post about astrology.  It’s been awhile since I’ve had a long conversation with her, but she was always more of a soft polytheist.  She’s a very intelligent individual, and also open-minded and interested in having discussions.  She loves comparative mythology just as I do.  We always have some interesting exchanges.  Being more of a hard polytheist, Katrina helped me see different perspectives in a more positive light.  She is definitely one of my role models and I always think of her when the nature of Gods comes up.  And it often does in such a diverse world!

My feelings grow and evolve according to my experiences, studies, and moods.  For the most part, I have experienced the Gods as separate beings.  Before Druidism, I had a very strong relationship with the Egyptian Goddess Bast.  When our time together ended, she never became Brighid or any other Goddess. Some of my Wiccan friends, who have some Norse leanings, were doing a drawing down with Freya.  Not once during the ritual did I get the impression that Freya and Brighid were the same being.  In fact, experiences during that ritual lead some of us to believe that Brighid definitely did not want me to work with Freya.  I will also add as an aside that, despite Freya’s connection with cats, there was nothing in that experience that connected her in any other way to Bast.

I will not claim to be an expert on the matter.  I will not even claim to be an incredibly practiced spirit worker.  When I have been lucky enough to get into a productive trance state, and when I have been able to meet with my Gods, the question came up once or twice.  The Gods always laugh it away as a silly concern and ask me to focus on the here and now.  It’s become a bit of a mantra to me. When I ground and center, I focus on the here and now, even saying those words to myself as I breathe in and out.  In that moment there is only me, the altar, the nature around me, my ancestors, and my Gods.

And my Gods seem to be individual.  They are part of nature and connected by nature, yes.  Brighid is the fire.  An Dagda is the passion.  The Cailleah is the snow and wind.  Manannan is the sea.  But to me, that isn’t it.  Hestia, a Greek Goddess, is also fire.  Yet she isn’t Brighid.  They are of different lands, cultures, and lore.  To me, they are related through nature but distinct.  They can be described as an archetype but are more than that simplification.  Much as my sister and I are both archetypes of daughters, wives, sisters, women, and even artisans, we are still different people.  We are united by the same forces of nature that unite as all – a web of creation and destruction that, to me, is mindless.  It just is: creating, destroying, and uniting us in those simple truths.

To me, my Gods are intimately tied to a culture.  I don’t see this as a limitation of them. I always say I have an agnostic side to me, and that side argues that, yes, they could be more than that.  But they present themselves to me in that way, using that symbolism.  The symbolism of the Irish culture helps me better access them.  There is power already invested in those symbols and it works for me.  Perhaps Brighid really is the same as Hestia.  Perhaps I am only seeing one head on a hydra of fire.  Perhaps Brighid and Hestia really are the same as Bast and Lugh and Odin, and any other number of deities…    But I haven’t experienced them as that.  I continue to work with the Tuatha de Dannan using the symbolism of the culture associated with them – the culture of some of my ancestors.

I am equally comfortable going outside and honoring the sunthe windwaterlightening as is without cultural symbolism.  When some argue that hard polytheists don’t do that clearly haven’t met many and create a false dichotomy as my friend  Grey Wren would say.  Hard polytheists aren’t all so rigid.  I think the vast majority of us are more fluid and open to the mystery of who the Gods really are. We understand that mythology is symbolic rather than literal. We think and feel the way we do because that is how the spirits present themselves to us.  We do as we do out of integrity to ourselves and the spirits.  It is what makes sense to us.  However, that integrity is no excuse for the haughty, evangelical nature some hard polytheists might present to others.  Thankfully, that sort seems to be the minority.

But don’t feel like you can’t talk to us about your experiences as a soft polytheist.  Most of us are open-minded and understand that no human can truly understand the spirit world completely.  We can still learn from each other.  We can still connect because we are connected.  Exactly how is just a beautiful mystery. 🙂

 

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