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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Spiritual Masochism or Why I Translate Ancient Texts Into Modern English

  Some of my regular readers have undoubtedly noticed that in the last several months I've begun posting more blog entries featuring translations of pieces of the old mythic texts. Some of you may be wondering why - or I may just be boring you to tears. A friend suggested this morning that I may want to explain why I've been doing the translations and how they relate to my spirituality and I thought it was a smashing idea so hear you go. It's a convoluted story, but maybe you'll understand a bit better how my head works and why I feel its so important to share this particular hobby.

   About a year ago while re-reading the Tain Bo Cuiligne I ran across a particular line that really stuck out to me, where Fergus swears on the point of his sword and calls it a "halidom of Macha". As I contemplated that line I found myself wondering if he had really said that in the Irish or if the translator had shifted the meaning in some way and on a whim I found a copy of the Tain as Gaeilge (in Irish) and checked. Indeed the phrase in question - "Mache mind" does mean halidom of Macha, but mind also has some fascinating layers of meaning including blade and oath. It was an intriguing thing to contemplate. 
  More time went by and I found myself, rather unexpectedly, writing a book on the Morrigan. As I worked with the quotes and translations of the source material for that I found myself once again wondering how well the translation reflected the original. Some people may not realize that the vast majority of translations we have access to for the Irish myths were done a hundred years or more ago, and during a time period when certain subjects where not always handled well and others were, shall we say, treated poetically? An example of this can be seen in Hennessey's approach to the line from Cath Magh Rath about the Morrigan where he translates "Caillech lom, luath ag leimnig" as a lean hag, swiftly leaping - but lom doesn't mean lean it means bare or naked. So properly this line says "a naked hag, swiftly leaping" and there is a significant difference, I think, in the imagery created between these two translations. And to me this matters a great deal. It also means that all the translations we have come to us through a specific filter which does, for good or ill, affect the meaning of what we are reading and change our understanding of it.
   So we've established that I am a stickler for semantics and that I am rather obsessed about what the original language actually said, as opposed to what the popular translations say. In Irish - modern Irish that is - there is a saying, tír gan teanga, tír gan anam, a nation without a language, a nation without a soul. I think this reflects a core truth, that our language is not only a basic means of communication but an expression of how we relate to and perceive reality. In psychology we call this linguistic relativity*, the idea that language effects how we think about the world. What this means in practical terms is that to truly understand a culture you must understand the language of that culture. 
   More time went by and the subject of the Morrigan as a battle goddess came up, and specifically of her inciting battle. The section in the Cath Maige Tuired (CMT) where the Morrigan incites Lugh to rise up and overthrow Bres was mentioned and I realized that although a small initial portion was translated the majority was not. In fact significant portions of the Cath Maige Tuired have not been translated due to the difficulty of the text and possibly the subject matter in those sections**. I decided to try translating the passage myself and found that what it said was profoundly meaningful to my understanding of the Morrigan as a goddess and as a deity of war. Over time I started taking on the project of translating more sections of the CMT, because I believe that it is important to read the sections previously untranslated and think about what they say. I made the decision to share these attempts here, even though I am at best a base amateur, because I wanted to offer other people who have no Irish or Old Irish at all a chance to see alternatives to the common translations and possible versions of the untranslated sections. I truly believe these portions of text are worth the effort to understand, and I also realize not everyone can read them. 
   As an Irish polytheist there is much insight and truth to be gained from reading the old myths, but there is a catch, because the translations that are available are written through a very specific lens. That lens distorts and changes what it reflects in ways that we are often not aware of. Reading the original language gives us a more direct understanding of the story as it would have been understood originally, but then presents a new challenge of taking that and putting it into a new language without losing too much of the meaning. There is a certain masochism, spiritually driven, that drives me to do this, to keep seeking to understand the old stories and to translate them. And I want to share whatever I can of it, with anyone who may be interested.

* commonly known, somewhat inaccurately, as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
** what this means for us as Irish pagans is profound, as the CMT is a very important mythic text and we are in effect relying on translations that are at best piecemeal.
 

Copyright Morgan Daimler

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Look at the Names in the Tain Bo Regamna

""Why is it the woman who answers me?" said Cuchulain, "why was it not the man?" 
"It was not the man whom you addressed," said the woman.
 "Ay," said Cuchulain, "(I did address him), though thyself hath answered for him:" 
"h-Uar-gaeth-sceo-luachair-sceo is his name," said she. 
"Alas! his name is a wondrous one," said Cuchulain. "Let it be thyself who answers, since the man answers not. What is thine own name?" said Cuchulain. 
"The woman to whom thou speakest," said the man, "is Faebor-begbeoil-cuimdiuir-folt-scenbgairit-sceo-uath."
 "Do ye make a fool of me?" cried Cuchulain..."
   - Tain Bo Regamna, (Leahy, 1906). 

  This scene occurs in the Tain Bo Regamna after Cu Chulain confronts a woman whom he believes is stealing a cow from Ulster - she isn't, as it happens, but he doesn't know that, nor does he realize she is the Morrigan until much later in their conversation. He comes upon her, a fierce looking woman dressed in red with red hair riding in a chariot pulled by a one legged horse hitched by a pole that passes through it's body. She is leading a cow and accompanied by a man who speaks for her initially as she speaks for him, much to Cu Chulain's consternation.

  In the versions I have seen the names of the man and woman are not translated but are given in the Irish, however I was recently asked to translate them and found the experience quite enlightening so I decided to share what I found here.

"‘hÚargóeth sceo lúachuir sceo. . .ainm in fir sin’, olsí" (Stokes, 1887). 
 "Cold wind-conflict-brightness-strife is his name" she said
Let's break that down word by word and look at each individual meaning: 
Uar - cold, cool, bleak, unfriendly
gaeth - wise, wind, stream, estuary
sceo - strife, conflict, fierceness, and
luachair - marsh, brightness, brilliance
 Note that sceo can also be used as a copula so it's possible alternately to translate the name as "Cold wind-and-brightness-strife" or possibly as "Unfriendly stream-and-marsh-strife". Either way Cu Chulain finds the name "wondrous".

"‘In ben sin at-gládaither-su’, ol in fer, ‘fóebar begbéoil, coimdiúir, folt, scenbgairit, sceo úath hí a hainm’, olse" (Stokes, 1887)
"The woman who you are speaking to," said the man, "is Keen edged-small lipped-plain cloaked-hair-sharp shouting-fierceness-a phantom."
Let's look at each of these one at a time as well: 
 fáebar given here as fóebar - sharp edge, skillful with weapons - an epithet for javelins meaning keen edged
bec - small, little
beoil - bel - lips, mouth
= becbel, given here as begbeoil*, would therefore mean small lipped or little mouthed
cuim - coim - protection, cloak, cover, breast, waist
diuir - petty, mean, plain, ugly
= cuimdiuir as a compound of these two words is a bit tricky and may have several possible interpretations, however since the next immediate word is "folt" (hair) it is logical to look at a combination that makes sense in that context, in this case "plain cloaked" however petty protection or ugly breast and such are possible
folt - hair, locks, tresses
scenb - point, spike, thorn, sharp, prickly
garid - destroys or shouts, calls, laughs
= scenbgarid, given here as scenbgairit, sharp shouting, prickly laugh, thorny call, and so on
sceo - strife, conflict, fierceness, and
uath - spectre, phantom, horror, Hawthorn

  It's interesting to note that both names contain "sceo". Also the interpretation I've given has a certain continuity between the two names, although I will note that I have seen other people translate the woman's name in a way that emphasizes physical ugliness. I believe this version is more accurate and fitting with her nature however as it emphasizes physical prowess and battle. For those who honor or study the Morrigan at the very least this can be food for thought.


* I have seen an alternate version of this which gives it as beo beoil which would mean lively mouth or quick lips. I have also found a version where the words are divided differently - fóebar beo béoil, coim diúir, foltt sgeanb, gairitt sgeo úath  - giving something like "Keen-edged, lively mouthed, plain cloaked, thorn haired, strife shouting a phantom" I don't feel this offers a significant difference in meaning though, but wanted to mention it. 

References:
 Stokes, W (1887) Tain Bo Regamna
  Leahy, A., (1906). Heroic Romances of Ireland, volume II


Copyright Morgan Daimler

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Obligatory Pantheacon Post

 I attended my first Pantheacon this year, so here is the obligatory re-cap of my experience:
Day one - travel. Who'd have thought I actually enjoy airplanes? Airports however are a form of elaborate torture. I arrived in California and was hit with immediate culture shock - you can get alcohol everywhere and it feels like early summer, and this is so not Connecticut. It was great to travel with a good friend and reconnect with other friends I had made at the Morrigan Retreat last June. I also had fun setting up a communal altar in the hotel room I was sharing with these three friends.
    Horse omens started immediately. No really, in the airport and then everywhere afterwards, horses, horses, horses. I have witnesses! Also crows everywhere. I really should have understood where this would be going but I can be slow on the uptake.
  It was a great experience setting up the traveling altars in the hotel room with my roommates. Although I am very open minded about sharing space with people of other religious persuasions and approaches I must admit staying with other polytheists was nice because there was never any need to explain anything. We all understood that altars were needed, that offerings were required, and we all had the same basic respect for those spaces and things. The communal Morrigan altar was especially powerful as all four of us are devoted to her in different ways, and since there was another Odin's woman there as well he got his space and offerings without any issue as well. There were space for other Gods being honored as well, and several jokes about the number of altars and the amount of alcohol around the room but the overall feeling was friendly and pleasant. I also set up a small space for the land spirits and Fay, as it was important to me to try to connect to the local wights.
  Later on Thursday we went to the Doubletree, the hotel where the con actually takes place, and poked around a bit, met some people including a friend from an online group that I really enjoyed spending the weekend hanging out with (we dubbed her the unofficial mayor of P-con). And then jet-lag of doom set in. Later in the evening I met the Coru Cathobouda crew at their meet and greet event which I attended with the rest of the Tuatha De Morrigan contingent (my roommates at the hotel).
Day two - registered for the con. And so it begins. Today's theme was horse skulls. Everywhere.    
    I taught a Morrigan workshop in the ADF suite and it went so well I was asked to go back Sunday and do another. Met Lora O'Brien who is really wonderful and reconnected with some of my favorite ADF people. I can safely say the ADF hospitality suite is entirely full of awesome.
 I also was able to meet several other people I had previously only known on facebook which was great. I love putting a FB name to an actual face. I must admit even though I had been warned about the size of Pantheacon I wasn't prepared for the sheer scale of it. It was larger than anything I had ever been to by orders of magnitude and because of that I didn't end up seeing or doing nearly as much as I wold have liked to, although what I did see and do was amazing.
   I attended a class by Orion Foxwood where he talked a little bit about his Faery Seership approach and also his theory of the four types of witchcraft. He is a very engaging speaker and puts on an entertaining workshop. 
Day three - the horse skulls continue. Those of you who know my old LJ/yahoo group name will get the entertainment value of my being stalked by the Lair Bhan (although it was being called the Mari Lwyd here). I'll probably do a future blog post just on that topic, but suffice to say it became something of a running joke with the group I was with.
  Very early in the morning I went to a smashing class on the Irish sidhe by Lora O'Brien - if any of you ever have a chance to go to any of her classes, DO IT!
   Later that day we wandered in to relax a bit in the Sisters of Avalon suite, admire their artwork and connect with some great people who are helping with the Morrigan sacred sites pilgrimage I'm involved in next year*. Later we hung out with some Faery Seers and learned a bit about their approach - not my cuppa but always good to learn other ways. The hospitality suites were an interesting experience in themselves, and I have to admit I thought it was really fascinating to look at the approach each one took.
      There were some spiritual shenanigans on Saturday including making offerings on a rock in a small island of trees in the parking lot. Part of my personal experience as a polytheist and Reconstructionist is that you end up making a lot of offerings, and I was lucky enough to be bunking with other people who felt similarly although the actual lead up to making the offerings should probably be categorized as a misadventure.
Day four - very early Sunday morning I went to a class on working with skull spirits because at that point it felt like I needed to figure out what was going on with all the skulls I kept seeing. It was very interesting stuff (and the Mari Lwyd was discussed of course because at that point I was still being stalked by horse skulls). Went to a class about the Morrigan, Poetry, and Prophecy - interesting info on Irish poetics but there can't ever be enough rosc catha discussion for me.   smile emoticGot to have a good chat with Morpheus and Brennos Agrocunos over lunch with the Coru and Tuatha De Morrigan folks, sort of an east coast/west coast gnoshy thing.Went to Lora's Morrigan class which was amazing, even if there were a mad amount of people crammed into a little room for it (seriously should have been in a bigger room). 
  Lora O'Brien did a workshop on the Morrigan which was intriguing and had some great food for thought in it. Hearing her talk about her firsthand experiences with the Morrigan's sacred sites, especially Oweynagat, makes me even more eager to go visit them myself. She also had a guided meditation at the end of her workshop which I found very profound. 
 Later that day I taught my second workshop, "Morrigan 2.0" in the ADF suite - anyone else noticed a theme at P-con this year?  - and had a blast doing it. ADF Druids rock! The class went well and we ended up talking about a variety of things relating to Irish Gods and mythology with a bit of Boudicca thrown in. Afterwards I was as asked to invoke Macha at the ADF unity ritual Monday morning, as if I'd say no to that! 
 That night I was dragged up to a meet and greet in the Llewellyn suite. It was an interesting experience but by far the loudest hospitality suite which made conversation a bit difficult. I enjoyed meeting Jason and Ari Mankey though and seeing the new Llewellyn releases displayed around the room.
Day five - Up very early Monday morning for the ADF unity ritual, which went really well, even if my brain ceased functioning at this point. I think I was suffering from convention burn out. And as I was standing there getting ready to thank Macha at the end of the ritual I had a strong feeling that Herself wanted the thank you in Irish. I have no idea where I pulled the words from if not Her, because by that point my mind was pretty mushy, but the words came.
    Afterwards down in the lobby I had an awesome chat over coffee with Vyviane Armstrong, Lora O'Brien, and Stephanie Woodfield about the sacred sites tour that's being planned for next year which may be one of my favorite parts of the whole con, although its hard to pick any one favorite thing.
And then - the vendor room. Wow. Please take my money awesome pagan vendors. (And I got to meet Jen Delyth and talk about, what else?, the Mari Lwyd).

The less fun part was the Epic Quest Homeward which involved two airplanes, an overnight layover in Salt Lake City airport, and New England welcoming us back to her frigid arms with a snow storm.
That's the highlights anyway, I'm sure I'm leaving half of everything out. In short, met a ton of awesome people, the craic was mighty, and I had my priestess hat on, quite unexpectedly, the whole time. Because the Work never ends.

Since people seemed to really like it, here's the Macha invocation from the ADF ritual:
"Macha Mong-ruadh
Macha of the Red Hair
Great Queen, Mighty Lady,
Uniter of opposing forces
Who was queen by her own hand
and chose the king from the most deserving
You who brought unity
Where there had been opposition and strife
Be with us now."
The "thank you" (and anyone who can correct my Irish feel free to jump in, it was a spontaneous thing) was:
"Macha Mong-ruadh
Mór Ríoghain, Bean uasal,
go raibh maith agat as do bheannachtaí
imeann i síocháin
gach croí, do bhaile"
(Macha of the Red hair
Great Queen, noble woman,
Thank you for your blessings
Go in peace
Every heart, your home)


Copyright Morgan Daimler

Friday, February 6, 2015

Thoughts on The Morrigan, Service, and Diversity

    I read a blog the other day about the Morrigan and not proselytizing which I agree with, and there's really no need to re-hash here. But I mention it because a line in that blog stuck out to me: "spirituality is not a one size fits all concept."
  I think this is profoundly true and also something we all should give more thought to, not only in the general sense that each tradition won't be right for everyone - Gods know recon isn't everyone's cuppa - but also that even those who are dedicated to the same deity will find different expressions of that dedication. We each have our own niches within our service. Perhaps we can say that there are often themes within the things people who share a deity are drawn to, commonalities, but each of us finds our own expression. We are each filled with a different passion. Its easy to forget though that those who honor the same deity we honor do not necessarily share the calling that drives us.
   I have only rarely met other people dedicated to Macha, but I know many more generally dedicated to the Morrigan. I see the expression of the things that drive them and sometimes I nod in agreement and sometimes I shake my head or shrug. The things that they are so profoundly driven by may or may not be things that I understand or share. In the same way the things that drive me are not the things that drive them. I know many honorable Morrigan's peolpe who have taken up wonderful causes in Her name, including things like raising money to donate to charities like the Wounded Warrior Project. I admire that, but it is not my cause to carry forward.
     I have a deep concern for the welfare of children, especially infants and for the rights of parents to provide care. I'm a pretty outspoken against circumcision and strongly advocate breastfeeding rights*, for example. In fact the only social protest I've participated in was a "nurse-in" that came about after a woman was asked to stop nursing at a local restaurant. I have helped with fundraisers in my area to donate to the local women's shelter and to food pantries. I don't tie those things directly into my dedication to Macha, but I certainly have come to feel over the years that She is a deity who is very much about justice for women and children**. When I think of serving Macha I can't help but think as well of speaking up in defense of the helpless, especially children, and of defending mother's rights. I feel like that's part of my personal calling. But I have to remind myself that just because these things matter to me doesn't mean they matter to others, not even other people who serve Her. It would be unfair of me to judge others for not sharing in the drive I feel to fight for these things. Instead I try to see and appreciate the things they do want to fight for.
     Some of us are called to write and teach while others sing, or dance, or live quiet lives of devotion. Some of us feel very passionate about a cause, others don't. We are a diverse group, a wide array of people from different walks of life and places - in every sense - who all seek to honor the Morrigan. As tempting as it can be to want to measure everyone by our own standard, we need to let go of the idea of expecting everybody to be like us, to share our goals and ideals. Our service takes many different forms, and we should strive to appreciate the service offered by others, as much as we work at doing the best on our own path.

* every woman must feed her child in the way that is best for them, and I do not judge what way that is, but I am a strong proponent for the right of anyone to feed a child anywhere at any time, and in the support of a person's legal right's to nurse uncovered in public.
** This has grown out of my contemplation of her cursing the men of Ulster, although I do realize that story has a lot of other layers as well


Copyright Morgan Daimler

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Are the Irish Gods, Gods?

  Every cultural type of paganism has its own unique little issues, things that go around within that particular community. Usually these are not things based in facts, but are a kind of urban legend, a statement made at a some point that was then repeated and taken as fact and slowly takes on a life of its own until it gains a kind of truth of its own, no matter how disconnected it may be from the actual root culture, historic fact, or myth. In Heathenry you see this with the idea people constantly repeat that only those who die in battle go to Valhalla* or that Valhalla is a universal goal, a kind of heaven, while Hel is a terrible place to be avoided. In Celtic paganism, or I should say Irish paganism specifically, what I see going around fairly often is the assertion that the Irish Gods were not, in fact, Gods at all. 
   This argument is put forth on several assertions. Firstly it's claimed that we have nothing recorded or written by the pagan Irish themselves therefore we have no idea who or what they considered Gods. The second assertion is that none of the Tuatha Dé Danann are ever referred to as Gods in any of the existing material, and that this is because they were never seen as being Gods at all just fictional characters. Both of these arguments get tossed out, sometimes be people within the Celtic pagan community, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, as with the "we know nothing about Druids" line its simply an excuse to justify someone tossing out the historical material and making up whatever they like. Sometimes its an attempt to disparage Irish paganism. The responses to being told the Irish Gods aren't Gods are often sincere but emotional, so lets try a different approach here. 
   To address the assertion that we have nothing from the pagan Irish Celts so therefore we don't know anything about their Gods, I honestly find that argument disingenuous. That statement is generally true of cultures like the Picts and neolithic Irish, but while we do not have any primary sources for the pagan Irish Celts we have an abundance of secondary sources. We have mythology preserved by early scribes during and immediately after the conversion period and we have later folklore which preserved the memory of deities in certain areas. These secondary sources can be cross checked in some cases against other Indo-European cultures, both other Celtic cultures and other closely related I-E ones because we know that I-E cultures had not only certain patterns of deities but also certain deities who can be found across cultures. Nuada is an excellent Irish example of that: a mythic figure, found among the Irish Tuatha Dé Danann who fits a wider pattern of the wounded king God seen in related cultures and who has clear cognates among the Welsh, British, and Gaulish. Archaeology is a significant tool as well, as studying  archaeological sites can tell us where ritual centers were and whether areas from myth and folklore did have ritual significance. We know from these sites that the Gods honored there were worshiped with offerings, and stories like "The Taking of the Sidhe" imply that such offerings were necessary for the people to receive blessing and abundance. We can also study place names and the way that folklore around specific deities focuses at a location. The different Tuatha De Danann had their own sacred places and real world sites that belonged to them. Like putting together pieces of a puzzle no single piece gives us an answer but when we put them all together we see the bigger picture. 
    Speaking of secondary sources, the second argument claims that nowhere are the Irish Gods, that is the Tuatha De Danann, called Gods. This is simply untrue. Some examples from the source material: 
    "ben in Dagda…día sóach" (Gwynn, 1906). the Dagda's wife…the shapeshifting goddess. 
   "‘H-i Ross Bodbo .i. na Morrighno, ar iss ed a ross-side Crich Roiss & iss i an bodb catha h-i & is fria id-beurur bee Neid .i. bandee in catæ, uair is inann be Neid & dia cathæ’."In the Wood of Badb, i.e. of the Morrigu, for that is her wood, viz. the land of Ross, and she is the Battle-Crow and is called the Wife of Neit, i.e. the Goddess of Battle, for Neit is the same as God of Battle.’" (Meyers, 1910)
 "Brigit .i. banfile.... bandea no adratis filid," (Sanas Cormac, n.d.) Brighid, that is a poetess...a Goddess poets used to worship" 
  "Manannan Mac Lir... inde Scoti et Britónes eum deum maris uocauerunt..." (Sanas Cormac, n.d.)  Manannan Mac Lir...the Irish and British called him the God of the sea 
  This is only a small sample but it makes it clear that while each and every one of the Tuatha De Danann may not have been called Gods explicitly several of them were. It would seem very illogical for the people recording this information to retroactively promote fictional characters to deities during a period that was still in transition from one religion to another, when the populace would still remember the older beliefs. When the different iterations of the myths are studied I believe a pattern can be seen wherein the Gods are slowly demoted over time, so that the Morrigan is clearly a goddess in the oldest versions of the material but by the later period has become a spectral figure. Similarly Aine is clearly originally a goddess who slowly devolves into a fairy woman and then mortal girl. This pattern would not seem to fit with the idea that the Gods were never divine, but only a Christian literary device. 
   Were the Irish Gods understood to be Gods historically? It seems clear that they were. They have sacred sites, they have myths and folklore, they have cognates and related deities in other Celtic cultures, they are called Gods in the older texts. 
 Are the Irish Gods, Gods? Yes.
References:
Gwynn, E., (1906). Metrical Dindshenchas
Meyer, K., (1910). The Wooing of Emer
Sanas Cormac (n.d.) http://www.asnc.cam.ac.uk/irishglossaries/texts.php?versionID=9&ref=150#150

* No, in fact this is not so. Read my blog here for an explanation of the complexities of Heathen afterlife beliefs http://lairbhan.blogspot.com/2013/09/heathenry-and-afterlife.html


Copyright Morgan Daimler

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Excerpt from "Celebrating Imbolc with the Family" in Air n-Aithesc volume 1 issue 1

   Of the four Irish fire festivals Imbolc is the most family oriented, although it does also have wider community aspects. Celebrating Imbolc as a modern Irish polytheist, or indeed any Celtic polytheist drawn to this holiday, is an opportunity to involve the entire family, especially children, in the traditions. While we don’t have any surviving information about the ancient ways that this day was celebrated we do have a plethora of native traditions to draw on, with the role of saint Brigit and the pagan Goddess Brighid often blurred and easily shifted fully into paganism. With some slight alteration all of these traditions can be celebrated by any pagan family to honor Imbolc and the holiday’s main deity, Brighid.
A basic overview of the Irish traditions, most of which were actively practiced into the last century, is helpful in giving the reader both an understanding of the holiday and of ways that it can be adapted for modern family practice. There were often regional variations in practice and even in the tone of the celebrations, from solemn to comical, which created a wide array of different traditions associated with this holiday (Danaher, 1972). For the purposes of modern celebration by a pagan household it would be best to focus on specific traditions and choose one tone for the festival, rather than trying to include everything noted here.
    Generally it was the daughters of the household who played the main roles, although the mother might also be called to do so if there were no daughters. This is in contrast to other traditions which place the father as the main actor in any rituals, divination, or prayers, and establish the more domestic tone of Imbolc. The prominence of women and daughters also demonstrates the importance placed on Brighid at this holiday, with the women and girls often being the main intercessors between Brighid and the family in the ritual enacted or playing the role of Brighid herself. Imbolc also places a strong emphasis on children’s participation that is lacking at other holidays which tend to have a more adult tone.
    Weaving new Brighid’s crosses – symbols of protection, health, and blessing – was an important Imbolc tradition in many places. One ritual that was enacted in Connaught, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, and Ulster before the Brighid’s crosses were woven for the new year on the eve of the festival was for the eldest daughter to take the part of Brighid and wait outside carrying the material for the project (Danaher, 1972). She would then knock three times, proclaiming herself to be Brighid requesting entrance; she is warmly welcomed in and the family sits down to dinner with an elaborate blessing prayer (Danaher, 1972).  The meal often prominently featured dairy products, and if the family was wealthy might also include fresh mutton (Danaher, 1972). After eating the meal the family would sit and weave the new crosses, with the largest sprinkled with water and hung up on the wall until the next Imbolc (Danaher, 1972). In parts of Leitrim there was also a children’s practice to use a small rectangle of wood and with potato paste attach peeled rushes in shapes symbolizing the moon, sun, and stars which would be hung up alongside the woven crosses (Danaher, 1972).
    Another tradition was to create an effigy or doll, called a brideog (little Brighid), representing Brighid. The Brideog might be made of straw from the last sheaf of the harvest, leftover rushes from weaving the crosses, a re-purposed child’s doll, or the dash from the butter churn. The effigy would be decorated with a white dress and mask or carved turnip, and might be comical, grotesque, or beautiful in appearance (Danaher, 1972). In some parts of Ireland the Brideog was carefully and elaborately decorated with shells, crystals, and other natural adornments (Carmichael, 1900). In some places, including Ulster, Connaught, Leinstir and Munster, the children would process from house to house carrying the brideog and pronouncing Brighid’s blessing on each home (Danaher, 1972). At each home the people give gifts to the effigy, and the mother of the household gives food to the children in the procession, usually cheese, butter, or bread; this food would later be used by the children for a feast of their own (Carmichael, 1900). In other areas including Cork, Clare, Galway, Mayo, and Kildare a brideog might not be used but rather the unmarried girls would form the procession with one of their number chosen to represent Brighid (Danaher, 1972). In Ulster it was said that the chosen girl wore a crown of rushes, called a crothán Brighite, and carried a shield (sgaith Bhrighite) on her arm; she carried Brighid’s crosses to hand out telling each household that it was the sword of Brighid (Danaher, 1972). In other areas the procession might collect food from each house, and in some cases might be comprised entirely of men or boys who would play music at each house (Danaher, 1972). In these cases the procession was often referred to as ‘Biddy Boys’ (EstynEvans, 1957).
In those homes that used an effigy as a Brideog a small bed would be prepared, made of rushes or of birch twigs, on the eve of Imbolc (Estyn Evans, 1957). In some cases the older women in the home would prepare or shape a small cradle, the leaba Bride or bed of Brighid, for the effigy to sleep in (Carmichael, 1900). In this tradition the effigy is made with great care and a ritual is enacted, much like the one mentioned earlier with the reeds for the crosses, where the effigy is taken outside and invited in. In one tradition the women of the house prepare everything and then one goes and stands in the open door, bracing on the door jambs, and loudly invites Brighid in three times, telling her that her bed is ready (Carmichael, 1900). The brideog is placed in the bed with a small wand, the slat Brighid, which may be made of birch, hazel, willow or another white wood (Carmichael, 1900).  
   
  Read more in Issue one 2014 of Air n-Aithesc