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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bealtaine or Beltane?

 I recently, publicly, made the choice not to use Anglicized versions of certain words, specifically holiday and deity names. There's several reasons for this decision but the core of it is that as an Irish Polytheist who is striving to speak the language it seems disingenuous to publicly use different forms of the words just because they are more familiar to most people.
  This sparks a bit of a debate in some places, partially because people feel that its a judgment on how they are saying the words - and I won't deny that I do struggle with accepting some of the alternate versions of deity names. Also samhain for some reason really irks me to hear mispronounced. But all that aside, it does raise the question of how we decide what is and isn't "correct". Even within Irish there is variation between different dialects, so that we can't find one precise way to say anything. There is always a range. And of course people argue that after a certain number of decades, or even centuries, being used by another language it really does become a word in that other language. Bealtaine is BYAL-tihn-eh or BAYL-chin-eh in Irish, but it entered English via Scots back in the 15th century. After so many centuries Bell-tayn is obviously a perfectly legitimate way to say it, particularly by non-Irish pagans. Samhain is SOW-en or SOW-in in Irish (Sah-vin in Scottish Gaidhlig) but its been called Sam-hayn for decades among American pagans*. How long does it take before that is a legitimate approach?
   And then there are deity names. How much does it matter if we call Hekate (He-kah-tee) something totally different from the Greek? Like Heh-kate? Or He-kit? What about calling Macha (Mah-kuh, with the ch like in loch) Mah-chuh with a ch like in cha-cha-cha? what about the almost always mispronounced Welsh deities? BlodeuweddLlew Llaw GyffesWhen people have never heard these names said, only read them in books, and don't speak the languages they come from, how much does the mispronunciation matter?
  I'm not offering an answer here, just asking you all to think about the subject. I've come to my decision and intend to stand by it. But I think this is one of those little things that maybe isn't so little, that we all often ignore. Whatever you decide to do - to make sure you pronounce things correctly in the language they come from or that it doesn't matter as long as the intent is there - let it be a conscious decision. Let it be a choice, not a default.

*Honestly this would bother me a lot less if the people calling it Sam-hayn would focus on American traditions rather than emphasizing Samhain as an Irish or Celtic holiday. If you want to pronounce it Sam-hayn and focus on seances, the death of a cyclic God, and such more power to you. Just don't talk about the holidays long Celtic history....just like Beltane with a Maypole and marriages isn't Irish.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Several Short Book Reviews

First a couple for the kids or parents with kids:

The Ancient Celtic Festivals: and How We Celebrate Them Today
by Clare Walker Leslie
Overall this is an excellent book to introduce children - and adults - to the basic concepts surrounding the Celtic, specifically Irish, culture and holy days. Some of the information is a bit dated now or controversial - the entry on Beltane is particularly problematic - but in general the content is comprehensive and well researched. I especially liked the amount and quality of illustrations and the inclusion of peripheral cultural information about the Celts that I know my children will enjoy.
I would recommend this book be read to a child by an adult who can explain or clarify the problematic points, and that adults reading for themselves supplement this book with something more in depth such as Kondratiev's the Apple Branch

A Child's Eye View of Irish Paganism
by Blackbird O'Connell
This really is the perfect book to introduce your child or children to Irish Paganism. The author touches on all the basics and important concepts but doesn't overwhelm the reader with too much information. Everything is covered in an age appropriate way and in enough depth to satisfy a child or encourage deeper research. As an adult I liked the book, but what's more important my 10 year old daughter loves it. She enjoyed reading it and has repeatedly asked to do the different activities in the book. I don't think any children's book can get higher praise than that.

Then some more adult books:

Teagasca: The Instructions of Cormac Mac Airt
by C. Lee Vermeers
This is my new favorite version of this classic text. Not only has the author improved the readability of the older translations but he has in many places clarified the meaning. I also really appreciate the extensive footnotes which offer insight into both the author's choices for certain translations and also clarify certain key points of Irish culture. This allows the reader in many cases to gain an alternate view of ways that that line can be understood as well as a deeper insight into the older culture from which the text originated. The book itself is trade paperback sized and so can easily be carried in a purse or bag, and the quality of teh printing is good. More than worth the money and highly recommended.

The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex
by Brian Walsh
I highly recommend this book to anyone studying fairylore or interested in honoring the daoine sidhe. The author does a wonderful job of taking apart Rev. Kirk's Secret Commonwealth and analyzing every aspect of the material. His inclusion of Robert Kirk's personal history helps put the text in context. He also nicely summarizes the major themes and outlines the basic beliefs of the fairy belief complex in a way that is both straight forward and in depth.

Stalking the Goddess

by Mark Carter
This book is an absolutely fascinating dissection of Robert Graves' book the White Goddess, without the usual romanticism or blind-eye to history that many use to view that book. Rather the author uses a variety of tools to take apart the major themes of the White Goddess and explain their sources and ultimate motivations in ways that provide a deeper understanding of the text itself. Stalking the Goddess relies on a wide array of historic Irish and Welsh material as well as authors contemporary to Graves and Graves own words from other works to provide this in depth understanding of the White Goddess, a book that has become the cornerstone - realized or not - of many modern pagan religions. This book has great value, I think, both to modern neopagans who need to understand the roots of the things Graves has made popular but also to those interested in Irish and Welsh material who might enjoy the author's discussion of topics like the Ogham. Definitely an enjoyable and educational read.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Translating De Gabail in tSida

De Gabail in tSide

Boí rí amra for Tuathaib Dea i nHere. Dagan a ainm. Ba mór dí a chumachta, ced la Maccu Miled iar ngabail in tíre. Ar collset Tuatha Dea ith ocus blicht im Maccu Miled. Co ndingsat chairddes in Dagdai. Doessartsaide iarum ith ocus blicht dóib. Ba mór dí a chumachtasom in tan ba rí i tossuch, ocus ba hé fodail inna side do feraib Dea .i. Lug mac Ethnend i sSíd Rodrubán, Ogma i sSíd Aircheltrai, Don Dagdu fessin im Síth Leithet Lachtmaige oí asíd Cnocc Báine. Brú Ruair. Síd in Broga dano ba laiss i tossuch, amal asberat. Do lluid dí in Mac Oac cosin Dagda, do chungid feraind o forodail do chách, ba daltasaide dí do Midir Breg Léith, ocus do Nindid fáith, 
"Nimthá duit" ol in Dagda. "Ni tharnaic fodail lemm."
"Etá dam dí" ol in Mac Ooc. "Cid bia co n-aidchi it trib féin. "dobreth dosom ón iarum. 
"Collá dot daim tra" ol in Dagda 
"uaire doromailt do ré Is menand" olse. "is laa ocus adaig in bith uile. Ocus iss ed on doratad damsa."
 Luid dó Dagán ass iarum ocus anaid in Macc Oóc ina síd. Amra dano a tír hisin. Ataat tri chrand co torud and do grés, ocus mucc bithbeo fo chossaib ocus mucc fonaithe. Ocus lestar co llind sainemail. Ocus ni erchranand sin uile do grés.
    - Lebar na Núachongbála

The Taking of the Sí

There was a marvelous king of the Tuatha Dea in Ireland. Dagda was his name. Great was his power, even in the present time when the Sons of Mil have taken the land, on account of the Tuatha Dea destroying the grain and milk of the Sons of Mil, until they made an alliance with the Dagda. Afterwards he preserves the grain and milk for them.
   Great was his power while he was king in the beginning and he distributed the sí to the men of the Gods that is Lug mac Ethne in the sí at Rodrubán, Ogma in the sí at Aircheltra, the Dagda himself the sí Leithet Lachtmaige, sheep-ful the White Mound, Brú Ruair. The sí of Broga then was among his at the beginning, as they say. Then the Mac Oc went to Dagda seeking territory but it was all dispersed; he was a fosterson to Midir Breg Leith and Nindid the Seer.
"There is nothing to go to you", said the Dagda. "Everything has been distributed by me."
"Obtain for me this," said the Mac Oc, "even hospitality with the following night in your own place." This was given  to him afterwards.
"Your time as a guest is over*," said the Dagda.
"Hours consume a man's time, it is evident," he said."It is a day and night in life always. And it is the aforementioned I was given."
 The Dagda went out afterwards and the Mac Oc remained in the sí. Wonderful moreover his land there. There were three trees with produce there on them always, and a pig always in life on its feet, and a pig roasted. And a vessel with distinctive drink. And all these things never fail, always.
   - Book of Leinster

* this is a bit awkward to render in English. Literally it's "Spent is your legitimate guest to you then"

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Morrigan The Dagda, and Unions

If there is one story in Irish mythology relating to the Morrigan that the most people are familiar with it is probably the scene in the Cath Maige Tuired where the Morrigan and the Dagda meet at a river, join, and then plan strategy for the coming battle with the Fomorians. There are several interpretations of this incident but possibly the most common are that it shows the Morrigan as a goddess of sex and that it is a case of the Dagda trading sex for victory. 
  Probably not surprisingly to anyone who has read my blog, particularly my previous blog on the story of Dian Cecht and Miach, I have a different opinion. First let's look at the actual story:
"Boi tegdus den Dagdae a nGlionn Etin antuaith. Bai dno bandal forsin Dagdae dia bliadnae imon samain an catha oc Glind Edind. Gongair an Unius la Connachta frioa andes. Conaca an mnai a n-Unnes a Corand, og nige, indarna cos di fri Allod Echae .i. Echumech, fri husci andes, alole fri Loscondoib, fri husce antuaith. Noi trillsi taitbechtai fora ciond. Agoillis an Dagdae hi & dogniad oentaith. Lige ina Lanomhnou a ainm an baile osin. Is hi an Morrigan an uhen sin isberur sunn."

Itbert* si iarum frisin Dagdae deraghdis an Fomore a tir .i. a Maug Scetne, & aragarudh an Dagdae oes danu Erionn arocendsi for Ádh Unsen, & noragad si hi Scetne do admillid rig na Fomore .i. Indech mac Dei Domnann a ainm, & douhéradh si crú a cride & airned a gailie uad. Dobert-si didiu a dí bois den cru sin deno sluagaib batar oconn idnaidhe for Adh Unsen. Bai Ath Admillte iarum a ainm ond admillid sin an riog.
~ Cath Maige Tuired

"The Dagda had a house at Glenn Etin in the north. The Dagda was to meet a woman on a day, yearly, about Samain of the battle at Glen Etin. The Unish of Connacht calls by the south. The woman was at the Unish of Corand washing her genitals, one of her two feet by Allod Echae, that is Echumech, by water at the south, her other by Loscondoib, by water at the north. Nine plaits of hair undone upon her head. The Dagda speaks to her and they make a union. Laying down of the married couple was the name of that place from then. She is the Morrigan, the woman mentioned particularly here.

Afterwards she commands the Dagda to strip his land, that is Mag Scetne, against the Fomorians, and told the Dagda to call together the aes dana of Ireland to meet at the Ford of Unsen and she would go to Scetne and injure with magic the king of the Fomorians, that is Indech mac De Domnann is his name, and she would take the blood of his heart and kidneys of his battle-ardor from him. Because of that she will give to the gathered hosts the blood in her two palms, striking, groaning, warlike by the Ford of Unsen. Ford of Utter Destruction was its name afterwards because of the magical injury done to the king." (translation mine)
 Now it has been argued that she does this because he slept with her, in a sort of trade, but lets take a closer look at a few things. Firstly this meeting is said to be "dia bliadnae" or on a day yearly, which implies that the two meet every year about that time. We have hints from other material that the Morrigan may be the Dagda's wife, specifically the Metrical Dindshenchas: 
"ben in Dagda,
ba samla día sóach. Mórrígan mórda,
ba slóg-dírmach sámda."
- Metrical Dindshenchas: Odras

the wife of the Dagda
a phantom was the younthful goddess
...the mighty Morrigan
whose ease is trooping hosts"

One might note that the same word "ben" is used in both the Dindshenchas and Cath Maige Tuired passages. Whether or not we give that any weight, we should at least consider that the two do have a connection outside this single story. So we see a yearly meeting with two deities who are associated with each other outside of this story as well. The two meet at a pre-arraigned location where the Dagda finds the Morrigan straddling a river washing her genitals. The Dagda says something to her - about what we don't know. After making this union - one may assume having sex, although the word oentaith can mean either a physical union or a pact or agreement - the Morrigan tells the Dagda to strip his land, a common military ploy, in the place the Fomorians will be and to gather the armies of the Tuatha De Danann, and then promises to go out herself and destroy one of the Fomorian kings with magic, which she subsequently does, bringing back two handfuls of blood as proof. At no point does the story explicitly state that a deal is made between them, or that the Morrigan's actions are in any way a response to or payment for the Dagda's. We can say with certainty that she never makes an offer to him, although we do not know what he says to her when he first sees her. 
   My personal take on this is simple. The Dagda and the Morrigan meet every year and this particular year their meeting falls just before a major battle. After having sex the Morrigan tells the Dagda exactly what he is to do and what she herself will be doing until he gathers the armies. Anyone who is married or in a long term relationship should appreciate the interpersonal dynamics going on here.
  Is the Morrigan a goddess of sex? I don't think so, and certainly not based on this incident. It would be easier to argue for the Dagda as a God of sex, given the frequency with which he engages in the activity in stories...
  Did the Morrigan grant her aid to the Tuatha De Danann in trade for the Dagda's attention? There's really no indication of that either in the text. The Morrigan is a member of the Tuatha De Danann, daughter of Ernmas and Delbeath according to the Lebor Gabala Erenn, and had every reason to assist the Tuatha De without payment. We also need to keep in mind that before this meeting the Morrigan had already gone to Lugh and chanted a battle incitement to encourage him to rise up and fight, so she herself was clearly both in favor of the battle and already encouraging it and acting for the Tuatha De.
   It's an interesting passage and full of important information about both Gods, but I think we need to be cautious in rushing to interpret it, especially through a modern lens. Instead I think we need to look at what's actually going on and being said, and what happens, and let the story speak for itself.    

* I'm translating itbert, which is a form of as-beir, as commands, although it has nuanced meanings. It can mean says or speaks, but in a sense of orders which I believe is what the Morrigan is giving here it means commands. It can also mean singing or chanting

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

the Morrigan's Satire Poem

I have done another version of the Morrigan's satire poem from the Tain Bo Regamna but I thought it would be interesting to show you all the differences between the two versions. The previous one is the von Egerton version. The following is the Yellow Book of Lecan version:

  Doernais namgaib
Gaib eiti ablatutar
ie n Muirrthemne
(daruber .i. arg mag Murthemne).
Moracrat romleic diamaigi
fiachanma amanse
nach cach do arbiur
Ardbae aen marb
maigi Sainb (daruber .i. Ai)
Cerda croichengach
cochbith metsin glinni
lat les find fir itho is de
buaib brethai treth
tuasailc os do marai
airdde cechlastar
Cnailngi a Cuculainn fri
burach mbuaid ar
cuailgi a Cuchulainn cair.
Buidi ben basa claen
cuil arm deisi ar saegal
dian taith .i. cluas armgreta.  
- Irische Texte mit Übersetzugen und Wörterbuch 

Slave-bound you grab
Take a herd driven
Gifts of Muirrthemne
(that is noble plain of Muirrthemne)
Great misery, chief stone, mighty lamentation,
Fierce ravens
Not each to you brings
Great fearsome glory.
High-profit a unique death

the plain of Sainb (that is Ai)
Skilled each-skin
World-warring judgment glens
Half severed, bright men hunger and you
arrogant decide a herd
Above demands and your existence
Your direction, every burning 
Cuiligne, oh Cu Chulainn, towards
Furious victory from
Cuiligne, oh guilty Cu Chulainn.
Gratitude a woman unjust death
Violating weapon, hosts against a lifetime
True binding, that is hear weapons-strikes

The alternate von Egerton version is:
Doermais nomgaib
gaib eti eblatar
tairichta muirtemniu
morochrat romlec dianedim
 fiach amainsi nachach
toarbair adomling
airddhe oenmairb
maige sainb croí chengach
cocbith mestin-
glinne let leiss
finn frithoiss dobeoib
 brectith reth
tuasailg osdum arai
airdd cechlastair
cuailngne achuchuluinn.

"Low-born-foundation you grab,
 Take a herd driven,
 Eastward-blown Muirrthemne,
 Great misery, chief stone, hurrier,
 Raven fierce but not
 Bringing great floods
 Peak of fame unique death
 Plain of Sainb heart, every head
 World-warring judgment
 Half a glen severed
 Bright wild place, your life
 Deceitful arrival runs
 Over poet's-demands
 Over mound's messenger
 Your direction, every burning
Cuilnge, oh Cu Chulain..."

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Modern American Tale of the Consequences of Angering the Good People

   So a few months back at Pantheacon I was lucky enough to attend a class on the Other Crowd taught by Lora O'Brien. I enjoyed the class very much (and recommend it to anyone who may have a chance to attend it themselves). At one point Lora told a story of a friend of hers and the consequences he'd dealt with after trying to build a house partially on a Fairy Path, a story I was reminded of while reading Jane Brideson's blog today which had a similar theme. Later at Pantheacon, I shared a story with Lora that I'd like to share here as well, of my own family's experience with what happens when you anger the Good Neighbors.
  Now I live in the northeast United States, but as it happens I have a fairy thorn in my yard. That's a bit of a story of its own, but suffice to say that I'm certain it is, and we have left offerings to the aos si there for many years now.
   Last summer my husband was doing yard work and damaged the tree. He came inside and told me that he had accidentally taken a palm sized chunk of bark off of the trunk. I immediately told him to go out and apologize and leave an offering at the tree, because the Fair Folk are notorious for punishing those who damage Fairy Thorns. I was so worried about that I went out myself and left some cookies and poured out some honey, because I was afraid of the consequences to the household luck and to my husband. Unfortunately he decided since I had done this there was no need for him to do anything.
   A week went by, and then around 7 one morning I heard a tremendous crash. Grabbing my young son I ran out and found my husband's car impaled by an enormous branch, which had plunged down like a spear from an oak tree. The branch had gone through the car and broken, so that part of it still jutted up while the rest lay on the ground next to the vehicle. Glass, bark, leaves, and splintered wood lay everywhere.
    I was grateful that my husband hadn't been in the car. I was thinking that after living in that neighborhood for more than 30 years nothing like that had ever happened before. I was immediately suspicious that it wasn't a simple accident, that on a morning with no wind, no storm, no reason for the branch to fall - and no logic for it to have fallen on the car and not straight down to the ground next to the driveway - there was something Fay afoot. It looked for all the world as if a giant hand had thrown the 15 + foot branch like a spear through the vehicle.
    I ran back inside and woke my husband, asking him if he'd made the offering I'd told him to, to the Good People after the incident with the tree. No, he told me, he hadn't, because he thought what I had done was enough. Up he got from bed and out I made him go to make an offering right then, before anything else could happen.
   And I can say that he won't ever make that mistake again....