Posts Tagged ‘Manannán’

Oh my gods, I got so behind. Between planning for the Spring Equinox, and everyone getting sick, this ended up on the back burner. I’m home sick today. It’s my turn with what my daughter brought home from school, so I decided to be a bit productive with my studies. Might as well, right?

So, back to Oidhe Cloinne Tuireann. Today we read a bit about Lugh, specifically how he was fostered by the god Manannán mac Lir.  Lugh arrives at Tara with several of his foster brothers, and is armed with some of his foster father’s treasures – namely the horse Aonbharr, who was famously swift, Manannán’s armor, breastplate, helmet, and sword. These objects sound magical, as they promise protection and strength above and beyond normal accouterments of war.

In Ireland, fosterage was a tradition by which children were raised by another in the clan. The purpose could have been to strengthen bonds between family, and Lugh’s arrival at Tara with some of Manannán’s greatest treasures, as well as his own sons, suggests a great love and respect. I think this was important for Lugh due to his heritage. Lugh was half of the Tuath Dé Danann, and half of the Fomorians. To have Manannán for a foster father must have instilled a great trust in Lugh.

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Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013

If you read my post from yesterday about getting ready for the Winter Solstice, you’ll remember that I’m (virtually) joining with the Three Cranes Grove to take part in their annual Yule Along.  Today is the day to begin and welcome the winter wanderer.  Since a day to celebrate winter and snow comes later, I felt that, although An Cailleach fits the role of winter wanderer, she is better suited to the later.  Instead, my family gave offerings to Manannán mac Lir.  As a gatekeeper deity, it seemed fitting to honor him as we start our winter festivities.  We prayed that he help us focus on the Kindreds and the truly important aspects of the season rather than becoming distracted by anything that would close the doors on our spiritual connections – gift anxiety, family drama, baking stress…

We also decided to adopt a tradition our German grovie Holda taught us.  Each day of the Yule Along (essentially the “Twelve Days” everyone sings about), we’ll draw a card that corresponds to one month of the coming year.  Tonight we drew a card for January 2014.  The boar brings tidings of challenges but also the warrior spirit, indicating that we have what it takes to survive.

You’ll notice I haven’t had a chance to decorate my altar yet.  By the time we finished dinner, it was dark out and we needed to get groceries for our feasting! Thankfully, my other grovie Tara gave each of us a rock painted with mistletoe!  That is on my altar and standing in for all the beautiful greenery I’ve yet to collect.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow.  It is “Mother’s Night” and I’m going to honor my own mother, my ancestral mothers, prepare the home and, somehow, make some time for myself.

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I’ve decided to try and reinvigorate my spiritual practice by joining the Three Cranes Grove and their “Yule Along”.  They came up with a Norse-inspired schedule but have invited others to experiment with their own hearth cultures.  So as I prepare for my normal Winter Solstice celebration, I’m also preparing for several days worth of spiritual work.  It will likely consist of a lot of offerings and prayers.  If possible, I will meditate.  My plan is to work with my husband to set aside some time each night for quiet contemplation and togetherness.  No tv, no video games, no movies, no social networking.  Thankfully, this falls during my holiday vacation so I will have more free time throughout the day!

As I gear up, I am going to make sure I have enough offerings.  I’m also going to add some seasonal decor to my altar in the form of evergreen boughs.  Finally, I am planning my family Solstice meal.  This year, I’m preparing to make a quiche.  Weretoad has expressed an interest in making pecan pie – one of my favorites!  I also want to start some new Solstice traditions that Bee can enjoy for years to come – family games, story telling, and maybe some singing.

Here is the rough draft of my schedule:

12/19 Greeting the winter wanderer – I am going to make offerings to Manannán mac Lir as the gatekeeper, tidy up the home, and mentally prepare myself

12/20 Mother’s night/Solstice vigil (which I can totally do because it happens on a WEEKEND!) – Call my mother, make offerings to my ancestors, especially my ancestral mothers, take a relaxing shower (since I’m a mother), and get ready for vigil

12/21 Solstice Day – family gathering with feasting and honoring Angus

12/22 Nature Spirits – take a walk outside and give offerings

12/23 Feast of Fools – not sure what to do here yet…  Thoughts from fellow ADFers who have done the Yule Along before?

12/24 House spirits – offerings and tidying up

12/25 Spirit of hospitality and gifting – offerings to An Dagda and time with family

12/26 Celebrations of winter/snow – another walk outside and offerings made to An Cailleach

12/27 Celebration of the evergreen – special offerings to the evergreen trees

12/28 God/desses of the household (Brighid) – offerings made at her shrine in my kitchen, meditation if possible

12/29 Shining ones – offerings at the main altar

12/30 Bringing in the boar (Lugh – deities/spirits concerning oaths) – offerings made

12/31 Twelfth Night — Resolutions, divination, remembrances, gratitudes – a celebration with friends

1/1 New Year’s Day — Returning the home to regular time, putting evergreens back outside, cleaning the home, and thanking the gatekeeper

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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 plaque I purchased from an artisan at the last CNY Pagan Pride Day. Although normally seen as a Greenman motif, this plaque was done in blue which automatically made me think of Manannán mac Lir. This plaque now hangs above my altar. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013.

The ADF discussion group on FB was recentlly abuzz with a discussion on the gatekeeper concept within our liturgy.  It’s a hot topic for some – whether it should be required in ADF liturgy, whether or not it’s an Indo-European concept, etc, etc, etc…  I’ve been working on Liturgy 1, part of my Initiate training in ADF, so between that and the FB discussion, I couldn’t help but reflect on the gatekeeper and what it means to me and my rituals.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, Isaac Bonewits briefly describes gatekeepers in his book Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals That Work:

The creation of a ritual center is often symbolized in Paleo-, Meso-, and Neopagan ceremonies as opening the Gates Between the Worlds.  This is usually accomplished by calling upon a particular spirit who is a gatekeeper, and who is easy to contact, since he/she is usually halfway into this world already.  The gatekeeper is then asked to open the gates, which she/he usually does with little fuss (32).

Pagans may envision this gatekeeper differently depending on the purpose/desires for the ritual, one’s personal or grove hearth culture, and one’s tradition.  Wiccans, for example, often call spirits in the four directions, be they elementals, guardians of watchtowers, or even angels.  Though I’ve never heard them referred to as such in Wiccan circles, these spirits are gatekeepers (32).  In ADF Druidic rites, many will call on messenger spirits or even psychopomps.  The wonderful thing coming out of the online discussions seems to be that the gatekeeper concept does not have to be set in stone.  Some suggest thinking of the gatekeeper is a guardian during our rites.  Others see him or her as a facilitator – a spirit who can help you access the Otherworlds, but does not automatically assume that we can’t do it on our own.

Personally, I work with Manannán mac Lir, Irish God of the sea, lord of magic, and arguably an excellent gatekeeper!  Muin Mound Grove often calls to Manannán as well, and that’s where I first started to make my acquaintance with him.  Personal study and experience has lead me to develop a relationship with him as a gatekeeper deity and, now, a patron to my Druidic studies.  His association with water connects him with the Otherworld, and yet many stories show him interacting with humans such as Cuchulainn and Bran.  One of my favorite stories features Cormac Mac Airt whom Manannán actually transports to the Otherworld, usually with the aid of a silver wand that tinkles like bells.

In my personal rites, I usually don’t call to Manannán as a gatekeeper unless I am doing some serious magical workings.  I was intrigued and yet not surprised to learn that others in ADF view the gatekeeper as a guardian – and indeed that’s how I consider him.  My usual devotionals are very basic; they involve grounding and centering, prayers of thanks, and offerings.  As they are done at my altar, a place I’ve been working at for years now, I feel that it’s sufficiently warded from most negativity.  When I need to do something other than basic devotionals or prayers, I then acknowledge the Outsiders, the powers of chaos, and ask them to leave me in peace.  In case asking nicely isn’t enough, I call the gatekeeper, Manannán, and ask that he aid me in my rite – no only in the magic I’m working, but in warding it from any chaos and negativity.  I occasionally use a bell wand I made through inspiration of the Cormac story.  I will ring it and walk a circle while chanting “Let the gates be open!”

I’ve taken my ideas about Manannán as a guardian to my protogrove.  I had been leading rituals in the same way I was taught – using physical gestures and asking Manannán to help me open the gates.  I began to sense a bit of a disconnect between the actions and the ritual participants.  Many are new to Druidism, so that has been part of it, and I was struggling with how to help everyone better experience the gates.  I wanted it to be understood and meaningful – else why bother? For our Spring Equinox ritual, I decided to approach the opening and closing of the gates as part of the Two Powers meditation.  I lead everyone through the usual meditation and then, inspired by Ian Corrigan’s work in the Nine Moons material, I asked that everyone view the water and fire combine into mist that enveloped us.  Out of the mist came a wizened, wizard of a man – Manannán mac Lir!  He stood as guardian of the Otherworld but also was there to facilitate the magic of envisioning the fire and well as gates opening and closing.

Everyone reported that this was very successful and they definitely felt an inner transition.  I’m very excited by this development and intend to experiment with it further as our concept of the gatekeeper evolves.  Some other ADFers are suggesting that Brighid would make a very appropriate gatekeeper given her association with fire and water and I find myself agreeing!  I feel pulled to join in this experimentation as well since Brighid is my patroness, but I do not want to end my growing relationship with Manannán either.  Perhaps I will approach Brighid that way during my flame keeping rites and see what happens.  Those times, I usually do not call to a gatekeeper.  They are very informal and hearth-centered – but we shall see!  Perhaps in looking to Brighid as not only guardian of my home, but as a facilitator to greater spiritual awareness, I will grow.

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