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Posts Tagged ‘lore’

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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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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As part of my work on the “Learn the Lore” course in the Irish Pagan School, I’m tasked with reflecting on my knowledge of the file tradition in Ireland as well as my current feelings on poetry. Next, I’m to share my thoughts and feelings on the story studied in days 1 and 2, “Echtra Condla” (The Adventures of Connla the Fair”).

At this point in my spiritual journey, I’m somewhat familiar with what the file tradition is. I have seen the Irish word fili before while reading through mythology and history books about Ireland. (A quick search helped me to linguistically understand that file is the modern Irish word, and fili is plural.) My understanding is that the fili are the bards. In this tradition, words have power. Music also has power, as we know through stories about An Dagda’s harp. To me, poetry is the marriage of language and music, so poetry is incredibly potent. To be a file is to tap into, and channel, that power.

Poetry is also difficult to create. At least in my experience. I try to write it, and often struggle. Prose comes easier to me, and yet I continue to do my best with poetry, especially when I write prayers and chants for my Druidry. I’m excited to learn more about the file tradition in this course. Perhaps this will inspire me?

I found the story of “”Echtra Condla” interesting. I vaguely remember reading it before. I recalled the fairy woman giving Connla and apple, followed by his wasting away, and going with her to the Otherworld. I forgot, or possibly decided to disregard, the woman’s prophesy about the coming of Christianity. In light of yesterday’s reflection, it’s interesting to think about the story as a young man’s conversion experience, and the Otherworld as heaven. As Lora pointed out in the video, while the coming of Christianity to Ireland did bring some problems, it was largely peaceful and positive compared to many other places. And thanks to the monasteries, we have stories like Connla’s. Personally, in my humble, novice opinion, I can see how easy it would be for Christian monks to alter the story for their purposes.

So what is my takeaway as a polytheist? The apple is a symbol of the Otherworld. It shows up in other stories, and I’m sure it will appear again in this course. Tales of Fairies luring away young men and women are also common. It’s interesting that she promises to take Connla to an island populated only by women. It is supposed to be a peaceful place. Take that as you will, I guess! Also of interest to me is the limitation of the Druids. This could very well be Christian propaganda, but it’s also a good reminder that the spirits often have more power than us humans. It’s a lesson in humility.

 

 

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My child has been a bit of a handful lately, especially in the evenings.  It’s probably a result of too many things packed into a week, fatigue, and the excitement of the holidays.  The last couple evenings have been particularly trying.

In our home, we talk about Santa as a spirit of generosity and giving; Santa does not deliver gifts to our house.  The spirit inspires us to give to each other.  We honor this seasonal spirit during our Twelve Days of Solstice observation with prayers of gratitude and offerings of milk and cookies.  Tonight, after my daughter was being exceptionally bratty about bedtime, I took a deep breath, and calmly explained what many people tell their children.  She’s aware that most of her peers think Santa himself brings gifts.  Today I shared another piece of that story – that parents tell their children Santa will not deliver gifts if he sees them being naughty.

“Right now,” I said, “I sense Santa’s disappointment because I am disappointed, and we are wondering if we should not give  you some of the gifts we’ve picked out.”

Of course, she did not like the sound of that.

Then I took it a step further.  I told her about Krampus.  I think most of you know who he is.  If you don’t recognize the name, go ahead and google him.

“Many of our ancestors believed in the Krampus.  He is kind of a mean looking spirit who punishes naughty kids around the holidays.  He puts them in a bag and beats them with his sticks!”

She became visibly shaken by this story.  She asked if Krampus is real.  Now, as an animist, I believe in spirits, but I also believe in the power of metaphor.  My husband is very agnostic, and he feels it’s also important that we show our child different sides of belief and thinking.

So I say what I always say.  “Some people believe in him.  No matter what, the story of Krampus exists for a reason.  Long ago, parents told their children that Krampus would do those things because winter is hard.  If children don’t listen to their parents, and if they don’t help with the house, they could get very sick or die.  Other people in the house could get sick and die.  It’s important that we take care of ourselves, keep our bodies and homes clean, and help to make life easier for each other.  So in a way, if you are naughty, you call naughtiness into the house.  Naughtiness, meanness, dirtiness – it’s kind of like a spirit.  We can get sick, we get stressed, we get upset.  Santa is a different kind of energy.  He is joy, safety, comfort.  We want that kind of spirit in the house, right?”

I explained that it’s the same with school.  If you are a good student, you have a happier teacher, friends who want to play with you, a clean school, a safer school.  Being a good person who tries to help, rather than make like more difficult for others, is usually going to be happier.  There will always be exceptions, of course… but I think it’s important to understand the value of cooperation*.

That really clicked with her.  Do good things, attract good things.  Give good energy to cultivate it.

And you know what?  She calmed down.  Assured that we work hard to keep our home safe and positive, she finished her job for the night.  We went to her room, I read her a peaceful Winter Solstice story to remind her of the very happy energy about the occasion, said our prayers of good rest and protection, and it was great!  I reinforced just how enjoyable it was to quickly finish her bedtime chores so that we had time (and I had energy) to read a book and sing a song.

I’m not posting this to encourage other Pagan parents to go about things this way.  I just wanted to share my experience.  It was interesting. As I was talking to hwe, I realized I was verbalizing a belief that I hadn’t fully articulated in the past.  My relationship with Santa has evolved since I was a child, and I really felt close to that spirit tonight.  Krampus, too.  I don’t really think of him as a malevolent, evil being – definitely a spirit deserving of respect and distance.  But I felt I understood his purpose – to remind people of the importance of helping your family, working together to prepare for winter’s dangers, and to teach our children that there are consequences beyond simply losing a momentary pleasure like television privileges.  It was also probably one of the deepest conversations we’ve had about spirits, energy, ethics, and one’s reputation.

 

*Obviously, we want our daughter to feel comfortable with being independent, taking positive risks, not going along with peer pressure, etc.  But that’s a different sort of lesson.  I just wanted my daughter to brush her damn teeth.  LOL

 

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Each week, I draw a card from my Druid Animal Oracle deck as an omen for the week.  I pray for guidance as I go forward.  During this week’s ritual, I pulled the owl card. I’m not used to seeing this omen, so the meaning didn’t come to me right away.  At first I thought about wisdom, stealth in the dark, and change because of the myth of Blodeuwedd the flower maiden.  She is transformed into an owl for betraying Lugh.  

This made me stop and think a lot about change.  The frog card can signify change, but it’s a total change – inside and out, possibly including one’s environment.  Snake can also indicate change, but more superficial.  One must shed one’s skin in order to grow.  What kind of change is the owl, then?  A punishing change?  An unwanted change?  Change via divine intervention?

I then thought about the link between owls and An Cailleach, as the Scottish-Gaelic cailleach-oidhche refers to owls.  An Cailleach transforms from old to young in several stories.  Could the owl card refer to a change via age or even a spiritual transformation?

I asked for more clarification and drew another card after shuffling.  This time the cat card came to me.  I associate this card with protecting the home and, at times, sensuality.  The former meaning comes from some Irish stories in which cats guard treasure, especially in fairy realms.  As I have cats at home, I see them as protectors and very hearth-centric.  I thought more about the connection between the cards.  They are both predators capable of seeing in the dark, yet I felt more confused.

Although I feel I have a good sense of the cards, their meanings, the symbolism of the animals, and my own understanding of their lore and biology most of the time, I occasionally turn to the companion book for further insight. I might have forgotten something.  Interestingly, another meaning for both cards is “detachment.”  Well, when both cards have literally the same word in their symbolic description, it’s hard to overlook the emphasis.

I’m not sure what this omen means to me yet.  Is it a blessing?  A warning before something comes up?  Maybe it means that, in order to engage with the spiritual change I seek, I need to take some time for myself.  This would make sense given my last post about  once more delving into trance practice.  Only time will tell.

Learning a divination system can be a complex process, but I love how rich and thought-provoking it is.

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Since giving birth, I’ve looked for ways to introduce and include my daughter in our holidays.  It was all about basic inclusion when she was an infant and one-year-old.  Now that she’s two, she’s better able to interact with her environment, discuss things she enjoys, and make bigger connections.

Bee’s Scribble Pumpkin Face – Photo by Grey Catsidhe 2015

We don’t carve Jack-o-lanterns until a week or so before Samhain, but I love to start decorating for the holiday as soon as October begins. Finally, Bee is old enough to notice that something special is happening and realize that she can help. Bee is working on her coloring skills, which will eventually help her with her writing skills. I want to encourage this as much as possible, and toddlers enjoy novelty. She’s aware of Samhain and Halloween thanks to special episodes of some of her favorite shows, and she knows what pumpkins are. I cut out some pumpkin shapes from orange construction paper and told her to draw faces on them. It was pretty amazing to see her spatially reason where eyes, noses, and mouths should appear.  My husband and I took turns coloring with her. If you do this craft with your toddler, it’s a perfect time to start talking about the lore behind Jack-o-lanterns in preparation for later carving.   In addition to making decoration, we also gave some to loved ones as cards.  I think we may make some skulls to put around the Ancestor shrine next!

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I recently watched a documentary called “When the Iron Bird Flies: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West.”  It was both informative and inspirational.  Although Druidism, largely informed by Gaelic Polytheism, is my spiritual home, Buddhism has always interested me.  I often find myself watching documentaries about it and reading about it when I can (although I remain a novice on the subject).  One thing I found particularly fascinating about this documentary was that it wasn’t so much about the history of the religion/philosophy; the focus was on how Tibetan monks brought the practice to America, and how that practice looks here.  Many of the tensions that exist in modern American Druidism can, in some ways, find a parallel in Buddhism in America.  For example, how much value should be placed on cultural traditions versus the central tenants?  How can we create spaces for our religious practices that don’t compromise our values?  How can we take a very old tradition from another land or culture (even one that belonged to our ancestors), and make it relevant to modern people in a different land?  How much time should be spent studying versus practicing? I think modern Pagans of many traditions can learn a lot from the movie.  It’s also especially inspiring to see how this minority faith has been able to build beautiful centers for its adherents around America.  In short, the Buddhist community in the US seems to exist because there are very devoted and serious members who spend a lot of time and, yes, resources on their spiritual passions.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about what drew me to Druidism through comparing my “conversion experience” to those shared on the camera.  Like the Americans drawn to Buddhism, I embraced Druidism because the messages I was receiving from the dominant culture did not resonate with me or my values.  So often, business and money are elevated above health, the environment, and true self-improvement.  “American Culture” is so influenced by monotheism as well as a tendency to generalize “exotic” concepts from other cultures.  So much of that is often watered down until it’s as useful as an advertising slogan.  It’s no wonder so many people like myself look outward or even backwards to a time many have forgotten.  I sought something different, fully willing to get my feet muddy and be transformed.

In Buddhism, part of the central focus has to do with suffering.  Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths address the reality of suffering and how we must come to terms with that and find peace. Druidism, as we know it, doesn’t really emphasize that so much, but in some ways, it could be argued that the suffering of Nature brought me to it.  In recognizing that my brother and sister Nature Spirits suffer, that we are all connected, and therefore their suffering is my suffering, I embraced Paganism and eventually modern Druidism.  Did the ancient Druids have teachings on suffering?  Perhaps.  The closest I can get to it right now is through the reported belief in life after death and the heroic way mythic warriors ran into battle, even when fate was against them.  Yes, you may have broken a geis – a taboo – that will lead to your downfall, but there is still honor in fighting because there’s integrity in it, courage in it, and people will sing of your perseverance despite the suffering you may endure.  So, I suppose, suffering is indirectly addressed in Druidism, but it doesn’t seem to be a central focus (nor does my attempt at finding a parallel mean that there has to be one).

So what is the central focus of Modern Druidism?

Harmony.

After a lot of thought and meditation, I’ve realized that my own concept of Modern Druidism’s central focus is harmony.  Again, I want to stress that this is just my opinion and only applicable to Modern (Neo) Druidism, though influenced by my fledgeling studies of Gaelic Polytheism.  Perhaps others would disagree, and my thoughts will likely evolve as I grow.  Right now – harmony.

So why harmony?

Many in the Druidic and Gaelic Polytheistic communities will agree that the concept of reciprocity is huge in Indo-European cultures.  The lore shows us that there must be an exchange of something in order for the cosmos to stay in order.  Rulers must protect their subjects and fairly distribute resources.  In exchange, everyone in the realm continues to work hard so that resources are obtained and everyone receives the services they need.  Culture can flourish.  When the ruler mistreats his or her people, as Bres did the Tuatha Dé Danann, there is disharmony that must be rectified.  In some stories, even the land herself rebels, hence accounts of sacrificial kings and symbolic marriage to the land.  In ADF Druidism, our liturgical tradition is based around reciprocity.  “A gift calls for a gift,” it is said.  When you are in a productive, healthy, meaningful relationship with another, there is mutualism.  The tall oak may appear to be the most important being in the forest, but such an ecosystem flourishes because of the give and take of the collective.  There must be harmony.

How can harmony, as a core concept of Druidism, apply to our practice?

For the Buddhists in the documentary, suffering influenced people to go through great lengths to improve themselves and their ability to find peace.  Obviously, there is a lot of meditation, but there is also a lot of study.  Whereas the stereotypical monk spends much of his or her day in meditation, in reality, he or she is also involved in a deep study of philosophy and, as Druids would call it, lore. Several of the Western Buddhists were also engaged in studying the Tibetan language to better engage with the culture that inspires them – something many modern Gaelic Polytheists can understand. At one point in the film, some of the monks discuss the importance of memorizing whole texts in Tibetan.  One man explained that there may come a day when someone will ask a question, and rather than make an excuse such as, “Oh, well, I don’t have my books with me right now,” you become the book.  That reminded me of the ancient Druids and their emphasis on oral history; they were said to activity discourage the written text.  Modern Druids have taken the pendulum and swung it the other way.  I think the Buddhists are on to something with regards to studying texts but then working to memorize them – to internalize them.  There’s a harmony there.  Furthermore, they have to find a harmony between their book studies and their spiritual practice of meditation.  A reoccurring discussion in Pagan circles often involves the need to find a balance between how much time one spends studying and actually working or experiencing.

Looking to a very successful minority religious practice for inspiration, one can see the benefits of finding harmony between both. In addition, Modern Druids must also find a harmony between doing that individual study and work, and then serving the community.  In my opinion, based on the historical basis, Druidism is a religion in service to others – the tribe, the spirit world, and the land.  Thus we nourish harmony within ourselves, then cultivate it around us in our relationships.

Harmony with Nature

As explained above, working with Nature was a driving force in my coming to Druidism.  While I wouldn’t describe our ancient predecessors as environmentalists, there’s evidence that they had animistic-type beliefs such as a deep respect for the land and the reciprocity needed to maintain harmony. The rich lore about Nature from Celtic nations inspired me, and the landscape reminded me of my own in certain ways. The modern world is so out of harmony with Nature. It only seems natural for people who strive to cultivate positive relationships with the spiritual world -including the spirits of Nature all around us – to embrace a lifestyle that at least attempts to live in better harmony with the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits. Historical precedence will only take us so far. The necessity for modern Druids to embrace environmentalism (of some breed) is based on contemporary needs. Many in the modern Buddhist community are doing the same. Their meditations on the beauty of Nature have moved several to act. The documentary gave some examples of how modern Buddhists are out picking up litter, marching in protest of environmental degradation, and speaking out for more sustainable practices. Seeing that was really inspiring.  Again – harmony between the desires of the self and the needs of the community.  Druids should also embrace that.

How do you find harmony in Druidism or Gaelic polytheism?  If you feel differently than I do about the central focus of Druidism, what is your opinion and why do you think that?

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