|my 'sacred' boots, which have crawled through souterrains, walked up sacred hills, cleaned a holy well, and delved deep into the Morrigan's cave|
I left for Ireland on October 25th, to help co-facilitate a Morrigan sacred sites tour. I was very excited, and had high expectations of connecting more deeply with the Morrigan, Badb, and Macha on their own sacred ground at places where their stories had taken place. The tour had been arranged by Land Sea Sky Travel and hit, in my opinion, all the major sites I'd want to have gone to from the well known like Teamhair [Tara] to the more obscure like Boa Island. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect to the Morrigans and I hope, very sincerely, that it served that purpose for the people who went on the trip.
My own journey went sideways, as they say, almost immediately, and that's the story I'd like to tell here. Because its mine to tell and because parts of it I'm compelled to share publicly.
|Hawthorn on the side of a path leading up to the cairns of Ceathrú Chaol [Carrowkeel]|
I have mentioned, I know, that while I am a polytheist and do honor the Gods my primary focus is on the aos sidhe, hidden folk, and land spirits. This is true. However on a trip like this I honestly expected that the main focus would be on the Gods - the Morrigan, Badb, and Macha - and on connecting to the land itself in a broader sense; that the Good People, while obviously always a factor, would be a background consideration. It became clear almost immediately that this was not to be the case, and then increasingly obvious that everything altogether was shifting in ways I had not anticipated. But now I'm getting ahead of myself.
After a bit more than 24 hours of travel time we landed in Dublin, a day before the tour was to start. I and my friend Melody who was traveling with me met up with my co-facilitator Stephanie Woodfield and her companion Ed Rickey and then Vyviane of Land Sea Sky Travel. Since we had come in early a group decision was reached to take the day and go down to Kildare and I was excited to see Brighid's Well (or wells as it turns out). The drive was lovely and I was struck the entire time by how much everything felt like home to me - not in a deep metaphysical sense exactly but in a literal, visceral way. It was actually disorienting; I don't travel much and I'm used to when I do travel feeling very much like I am somewhere foreign whether I'm in Florida or California or western New York. But that wasn't so in eastern Ireland, it all felt like I could easily still be home, and it was an odd feeling to be sure.
|Brighid's Well (the old one, so I'm told)|
The second day we joined up with the people going on the tour, and a more excellent group no one could hope for. I could write an entire blog just about how wonderful they were, but just take it as a given from here out that they were the most amazing 15 people - their stories are their own though and I don't feel its my place to speak to them, except where they touch on my tale here so I'll leave it the individuals to decide what they may or may not want to share for themselves. We got everyone together and we went to Knowth and Newgrange. I will confess that Newgrange itself underwhelmed me although I quite liked Knowth. That aside though for the second time in as many days I found that while I was aware of the presence of the Gods it was the aos sidhe that dominated my attention. We had had lunch at the centre's cafe and I had kept several of the wrapped pats of butter, stored in a plastic bag in my purse* and as we roamed the grounds at Newgrange, while the others felt obligated to pour out offerings to the Gods, I found a tree near the boundary which was Theirs and made my own offering there, to the Other Crowd.
At the end of the day we went to the lovely cabins we were staying at for the first part of the trip. I found a post on the fence line, right in front of a small stream, across from our cabin and set about making offerings there - it would become a sort of impromptu altar for the time we were there and I would make butter and cream offerings there every morning. That night I ended up giving a spontaneous workshop on the Other Crowd, Good Manners, and How Not to Get Taken after one of our tour people went out walking and heard voices in the darkness calling him to join them (not human voices). Being he is a skilled musician I was fairly concerned by this and it became a running joke - of the seriously-though variety - to make sure that person stayed among the mortal people.
When I went out the next morning to make an offering of cream there was a fairy ring in the grass in front of the post I was making the offerings at.
Have you ever had to go into a cabin full of people you either just met or possibly don't know well in person (my traveling companion excluded) and try to explain why the spot you've already mentioned as a place to make offerings to the Good Neighbors now has to be approached with care due to a fairy ring? It makes for interesting breakfast conversation.
The next day we went to Heapstone Cairn and then Cheathrú Chaol [Carrowkeel]. Heapstown Cairn is associated with the well of Slaine and is a place with strong ties to the Tuatha Dé Danann, especially Airmed. We did our opening ritual there and it was a good solid ritual to the Morrigan. But if you're guessing that, just like before, I felt the presence of the Gods but was far more keenly aware of the Good People you are starting to see the same pattern I was catching on to, although at this point I was ignoring it. I was here to honor and connect to the Morrigans as a priestess of Macha and that was what I wanted to do. I was seeing this as a once in a lifetime opportunity for that connection, and while I did appreciate the feeling of intense association, I suppose you could say, with the aos sidhe that wasn't what I had intended the focus to be.
You know what they say about the best laid plans...
Heapstown Cairn had a strong presence of the Other Crowd, both within it and in the little groves around it. I felt it and so did a few others in the group. It was an old feeling but quiet, contemplative. Cheathrú Chaol though - oh that place! I loved it from before I saw it. I loved it as we approached it and I saw the rising wall of hills. I loved it as soon as I set foot on the ground. We drove in and the mist came down like a wall, so that we hiked up to the cairns in a shroud of white. We arrived at the first cairn, carin G, and I went no further - if I were to say I had arrived home anywhere in Ireland it was that place. It is sacred, deeply so I think, and it is very full of the Otherworld. I went in to the cairn and refused to come out again until I was genuinely afraid that Vyviane might have to come get me, and I wouldn't let that happen. I won't share my actual experience there, but I feel like I left a piece of myself behind, and I walked away with two Irish pennies and shell in exchange. It was a fair trade.
The next day we went to Boa island for a ritual to Badb in the cemetery where the two Janus stones are. That place is quite amazing all on its own, and the feeling of walking on the ancient dead is strange, but the energy overall very peaceful. We chose to do the ritual under the cemetery's only tree, towards the back and I stood with my own back to it, just in front of a large white quartz stone thrusting up from the ground. the tree was being overtaken by ivy and honestly that was all I noticed before we started. This, dear readers was a serious error on my part**. So we began and as we got to the part where there is a ritual meditation, and Stephanie began reading it while people relaxed and tranced out, I became keenly aware of a door opening behind me in the trunk of the tree. My eyes focused on the small branch hanging over my head and down in front of my face and it occured to me, suddenly and simultaneously with the door appearing, that the tree was a hawthorn.
Sitting inside our warded space with a group of people mostly in open trance.
Suffice to say I handled the situation and everything was fine, because we had a motto going on this tour of 'no crow left behind' [crow meaning tour participant] and I have a strong sense of duty to people I feel responsible for. I will not make that mistake again though and afterwards I was sitting on our coach eating salt from a packet out of my purse (salt and butter, great things to carry around).
Rathcroghan was next on our itinerary, on the dark moon the day before Samhain. We started at Ogulla, a triple holy well, then went to the Rathcroghan mound. Walking up the mound I could feel that it was a sidhe but at this point I was kind of accepting that all the old cairns and burial mounds are. We were being guided by Lora O'Brien [can't recommend her highly enough by the way] and when we reached the top, up the eastern entrance, she had us all take 16 big steps out to demonstrate the size of the mound; I found myself walking straight towards the western entrance/walkway and had an almost overwhelming urge to keep walking. I knew in the moment that I had to go down that way, just as I'd come up the east. Had to, like a compulsion. This was almost immediately problematic however as Lora began talking about the mound and its history and mentioned the two paths, east and west, and shared that in her own opinion the western walk was not for the living and we were all to go down the east, the way we'd come. And the hell of it was that what she was saying resonated as true with me but still I knew I had to go down that way. So she had us focus on connecting to the ancestors and Medb, and probably to no one's surprise at this point instead I ended up connecting to the Fair Folk in the mound instead. Then when we were done and it was time to leave I discovered I had a problem - I could not go down the eastern path. Could not. Physically could not. So I wandered the top trying to figure out what to do because this was most certainly a case of 'do as I say, not as I do' since I knew no one else should follow me down the western path and I was afraid to just go down and have anyone else follow me. In the end I found Lora and talked to her, and then when everyone else had gone I went the way I had to go.
Maybe you're wondering why?
At the time I didn't know, only that I had been told I had to go that way and then found that the east was physically barred from me. Later, in the cave though it came clear.
There's more than one kind of initiation.
|cat at the Cave of Cats|
We left Rath Croghan and we headed to the field where Uaimh na gCat is. I saw a rainbow - the first and only one I saw while in Ireland - as we went and then as we walked to the field. When we arrived there was a kitten playing nearby who darted in and out of the cave; later he would escort me the final few yards out of the cave tunnel. All of these seemed like good omens to me and I was eager to get into the cave and finally connect in that profound way I had been expecting with the Morrigan. In the cave I ended at the very back, perched precariously on a slip of muddy ledge just above Lora and another person with the tour. There is a piece of time in the cave which I do not remember and I hope if nothing else that I did act as Her priestess for others while we were in there; sometimes when I go into a deeper trance I don't remember it. I do remember towards the end yelling at people as they left not to set foot outside the cave without thanking Herself first, so there's that.
Most clear in my memory though is the vision of the back of the cave opening up into a great golden hall, the sidhe of Cruachan. And as to that, I'm not sure anything I can say could ever do the experience justice. I think I would almost certainly have broken my neck trying to get to the doorway though if I wasn't in the position I was in right next to another person who I would certainly have injured if I'd tried to climb higher, and that thought, of hurting someone else. alone held me in place, but barely.
That night after the cave I dreamt of the sorts of things you'd imagine after something like that and I woke early in the darkness full of inspiration. You see our group was going to Tlachtga, the Hill of Ward in Athboy, that night to celebrate Samhain at the big Samhain Fire Festival. I, along with Stephanie and Vyviane, had been asked to take a role in the ritual itself helping by holding banners at the quarters and reciting some of the sacred space casting and such in unison with the other priestesses present. In addition I had been asked to say something in the ritual to honor the aos sidhe, and up until that morning I had nothing prepared. But when I woke up I had to immediately go and write down and it felt good and right.
We arrived on the Hill and the rest of the group went off to Trim to shop and explore. At this point I didn't even blink to feel the presence and know it was a sidhe. Of course it was. The energy in the air was amazing and the people who put on the ritual are even more so; it was an honor to meet them and stand side by side with them later on. Gemma McGowan is one of the nicest people I've ever met and her ability to herd cats - as we say in the states about those who are good at getting pagans to work together - and to put on such a huge ritual leaves me in awe. Everyone who was involved with that Samhain ritual was wonderful and I wish I'd had more time to talk with everyone - as it was it seemed like the night went too quickly. The crowd was epic, estimated at around 2,000, and it was filmed by a Japanese television crew. There were fireworks. There were bonfires. It was cold. It was windy. It was gorgeous.
I don't want to detract from the beauty of the ritual itself or the hard work of the group who put it on, but for my own small personal experience I will say that there was a point were I was introduced to say my blessing for the aos sidhe and given a title, something that resonated and presented me with a choice to accept or reject it. I accepted it, and the geis that came with it***, and I said the blessing I'd written as well as one additional line, added spontaneously.
People of Peace
You who are due part of the harvest
You who are due a portion of the milk and bread
You to whom the wild harvest belongs after Samhain
You who can give luck or take it
You who can give health or take it
You who can give fortunes or take them
We remember and honor your presence
May there be peace between us
May there be friendship between us
May the old ways never be forgotten
Beannachtaí na Daoine Sidhe daoibh"
|the temple mound at Emhain Macha|
The next morning, still Samhain by my reckoning, we went to Emhain Macha. We went to the Iron Age re-enactors village where they were celebrating Samhain and also the funeral of a village member, and - you guessed it - much of the event revolved around the Other Crowd. The site itself was beautiful and it was really moving to stand where the stories took place and retell them. The main mound, where the old temple stood and was burned, had a a good feel to it where I could have happily stayed all day. But the place that drew me the strongest was the smaller mound to the side of it, which - you guessed it - is a sidhe. We did ritual there with me as always offering butter, both in the ritual and before and after. It can safely be said that I buttered my way across Ireland.
After that we went to Cloch na Fhir Mhóir [Clochafarmore] the stone where legend says Cu Chulainn tied himself as he was dying. It was dusk and I stood out in the field and told the story of the stone.
The final day of ritual occured for us at Teamhair [Tara] and Loughcrew. Teamhair, like Newgrange, did very little for me personally although I think the ritual there went very well. Loughcrew was another thing altogether. The hike was pure determination but once up there it was worthwhile. The view alone was worth the effort - imagine standing so that you can look down on the backs of crows flying below you - but the cairn was also worth it. I did see the Hag's Chair and touched it, but felt that it was not right for me to sit on it, so I did not. I was drawn into one of the smaller open cairns to the side of cairn T though, and as usual Themselves were there strongly. At one point I had lost my sense of orientation and wasn't sure where the way out was, and said out loud that I needed to find the gate to leave - and immediately looked over and saw it. If you guessed a butter offering was made then you'd be correct.
|inside the entrance of cairn T at Loughvrew|
I could tell you more, about the hawthorns and the hawthorn twigs showing up everywhere, about the shells, about the magpies. But I think this is enough. You'll notice I haven't mentioned the Morrigan much so far. She and They were present but I found that while I served them by serving as a priest/ess to others on the tour for myself there was nothing on that end, excluding a feeling of Macha's presence at Emhain Macha. No, this entire trip for me became a different sort of thing entirely and it was life changing in a way I never would have anticipated. I am still not sure what it all means or what will happen now, but I am contemplating it all.
On this trip I was given two titles I didn't expect or look for, given them publicly: fairy doctor and priestess of the aos sidhe. The first I may arguably have ended up serving as for much of the trip, at least in ensuring that our musician remained earthly. Whether it is a permanent thing or not I am unsure, and unconcerned. I do what needs doing and people can call me what they please for it, as most labels are transient and shifting. On the other hand some labels are titles with weight and obligations that only a fool would ever take lightly, and priestess of Themselves is such as that. I was named Their priestess and it was spoken in sacred space, in ritual, on Samhain, on the hill of Tlachtga in front of thousands of people - it was spoken aloud and I did not reject it when it was said.
Priestess of the aos sidhe is something I will spend a lifetime living up to, and it is more work, in truth, than any one person can do. But I will try my best to do my best.
Sometimes the path is unclear and hard to find, the footing unsure.
Other times though, other times the path before us is plain and only the walking that's left for us to do.
|rainbow at Rathcroghan|
*yeah, this is basically the sort of person I am - "look butter, this will come in handy later for offerings. Into the bag it goes".
**I make mistakes. Some of them more serious than others.
***everything has a cost. Anyone who tells you different is lying.
All text and images copyright Morgan Daimler 2016