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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Being a Priestess of the Daoine Uaisle

  This month has been one of contemplation for me, as I look at how the last year has gone since Ireland. I've written about it, probably more than some people care to read about, because it's a big thing for me and because it's probably the overriding thing in my life this month. No matter what else has been going on my mind always spins back to the same thoughts: what does it mean to serve, what does it mean to be a priestess of Themselves, what does it mean to deal with them, and what does it mean to have this level of connection?



I want to be clear on a couple things as I begin writing this. What follows is my own personal reflections and thoughts, and while I'd hope it may resonate with other people I don't expect it will with everyone. Acting as clergy for the Gods is a highly personal and varied thing and I suspect that doing so for beings like the OtherCrowd who are not-Gods is even more so. Also it must be kept in mind that there's a huge array of beings that people may think of under the English term fairies, or any of the related non-English terms, and individual experiences with some of those will vary widely. A person who focuses on one specific kind of being may find their approach to working with or speaking for those beings vastly different from everything I'm about to say, and that's fine. While I can and often do use general terms and euphemisms I'm actually pretty specific in who and what I deal with and am in service to - the Irish Aos Sí, the people of the fairy hills.

The first thing that this dedication seems to clearly mean is writing about them. A lot.
Since coming back from Ireland last year, since that unexpected initiation, I've written two full length non-fiction books focused on Themselves (Fairies and Travelling the Fairy Path) as well as committed to a Pagan Portals book on the Fairy Queens. My blog has taken on a decidedly fairy-themed focus. I do still write about other things, but I feel more strongly compelled than I did before to try to get good information out there and to work on both preserving the folklore and older views as well as showing that modern beliefs do exist.

publication date september 2018
Secondly it means accepting that my focus now is on serving Themselves, not the human community. This has been a massive shift for me, because previously I did follow the more traditional approach of viewing priest/essing as a service to a human community, and I saw that as a duty that was important and even pleasant much of the time. I had always known there were those whose service focused more on the Gods, for example, but my understanding of that was still that it worked through a lens of human community. Now I see that in some cases service can be divorced from the human community and focused entirely elsewhere. It is a very different lens and that took me a long time to truly understand. I think before this experience I couldn't really have understood it at all except in the most abstract way.

It also means accepting and even embracing that this is something I need to be willing to publicly claim and discuss. This one has been the biggest struggle for me and it still is. Even after a year it feels strange and almost hubristic to call myself a priestess of the Good People and I do not like using that title, even though it's one I know I need to use and need to be willing to own. Oddly enough, given the change in focus for me, this is a title that was given by the human community not the Other One. The sorts of titles I get from them are very different and far more humbling - I think at this point I have been called 'servant' in at least three different languages. I suppose on the bright side at least I don't have any fear of getting too full of myself or forgetting my place around them.

Being a priestess in service to the OtherCrowd is hard work and it can be messy and unpleasant. It can also be amazing and full of blessing. But whatever it is, it is never easy. And unlike other things I have done or spiritualities I have practiced, this is not something that can be undone or changed later. There is no going back from this, and if that doesn't scare you then you aren't paying attention.

This isn't something I went looking for, although it's also not something I turned aside from either. If you really feel pulled to this, maybe look at the other path, at serving the human community by dealing with the Other not at serving the Other. Walking on this side changes a person not just figuratively but literally and that's a hard thing. I had previously had experience as a priestess to the Gods but I had never felt like I lost my sense of autonomy, like I wasn't making my own decisions. Now I feel utterly given over in ways that I could not have anticipated, and in ways I can't control. Keep that in mind, and don't forget that the cost of anything with them is equal to the value of what they are giving.

For anyone who finds the idea of this kind of path appealing, I'd warn against it. Practice Fairy Witchcraft, certainly, or whatever aspect of the Fairy Faith - or witchcraft - appeals to you. Become a priest or priestess for the human community if you feel called to as that is a vital and necessary thing. I found a lot of joy in my years of service to the human community in that capacity. But I wouldn't recommend priestessing for Themselves unless you have no choice or feel truly compelled to. It's a consuming thing, the way fire consumes, and like fire it transmutes what it consumes.




Part of why I'm writing this today is because I'm still working it out for myself, still trying to understand these changes and what they mean. The other reason I'm writing though is because I see so much out there that seems to glamourize (no pun intended) the idea of fairies and of connecting to them and I want to be sure people understand that it isn't all glitter and rainbows. It's literal blood, sweat, and tears. As much as it's alluring its also terrifying, and there's no part of it that's safe.

If you are going to do this, do it with your eyes open and keep your wits about you.

Friday, November 24, 2017

What Comes in Dreams: a Healing Charm

I've mentioned a few times before that I sometimes am given things in dreams. Sometimes these things relate to herbal knowledge and sometimes they are more complex, such as when I was told how to make Cáca Síofra. I can't always share these things, but when I can I do try to, not only so that other people can make use of them but also because I want to encourage other people to trust in what they might be getting in dreams or journeys.

One night a few weeks ago I had a dream and was given a healing chant. This happened around 1 am and I woke up afterwards but as I was very tired I didn't get up to write it down. I did remember it the next morning and had to try to figure out how to write it out properly. This was a bit more difficult than you might think because, as sometimes happens, it was given to me in modern Irish and while
 I have some modern Irish I'm much better with old Irish. When I'm given things in modern Irish I don't always know what all the words mean or how to write them out from hearing them spoken but can usually suss it all out afterwards. I do this by writing it down based on my best guess for what I think it should be and then asking my friends who are Irish speakers to help me smooth it out. In this case the next day several people helped me with the spelling and grammar (go raibh maith agaibh Caoimhin, Lora, agus Fionnuala!)

This is the healing chant as it was given to me:
"Gruaig le gruaig
craiceann le craiceann
cnámh le cnámh
feoil le feoil
fuil le fuil
casadh an chneá"

In English, roughly:
'hair with hair
skin with skin
bone with bone
flesh with flesh
blood with blood

turning/twisting the wound'

Anyone who wants to is welcome to make use of this. It's new as far as I know but it's similar in style to several other older healing chants for injuries, including, 'Charm of the Sprain' from the Carmina Gadelica and the Second Merseburg Incantation, so it's fine for me to share. It would be used by holding the hands over the injury and and chanting the words three times.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Bodach

The name bodach, like elf and goblin, is used for specific fairy beings and is also a generic term for a type of a fairy. Bodachs are found in Scottish folklore where they are usually seen as a type of frightening nighttime fairy that may lead people astray or attack people; in some localized folklore the Bodach is an individual being while in other lore it is a general type of being which can create some confusion. As with so many named fairies we see that there is fluidity in the understanding of who and what Bodachs are.



In Gaidhlig the word bodach has a variety of meanings many of which apply to human men, including an old man, an unmarried man, and a rustic but it can also mean a specter or boogeyman (Bauer & MacDhonnchaidh, 2017). Campbell says that the name means 'a carle or old man' but he also defines them as night specters who are 'no living wight' (Campbell, 1900).  From this we can perhaps gain a mental image of the Bodach, based on the other meanings of the word, but we can also most certainly conclude that it is an Otherworldly being that appears at night and is frightening. Bodachs are only ever referred to as male in folklore and the term for them is an exclusively male one as well.

Campbell describes a variety among Bodachs and lists them as both a type of Bòcan as well as a type of fairy being on their own. The Bòcan in Scotland are any type of terrifying night being which may include fairies and ghosts which frighten humans but don't necessarily cause any physical harm to them (Campbell, 1900). In some areas the term Bodach is used in the same general way that Bòcan is elsewhere, to mean any and all terrifying nighttime spirits while in others the Bodach is viewed as a distinct type of being (Campbell, 1900). When included as one type in the more generalized grouping the Bodach qualifies as one of the Bòcan because of its nighttime appearances and habit of frightening people it encounters, although Bodachs may or may not cause physical harm.

The Bodach was often used by parents to frighten children children into behaving and to keep them away from dangerous areas. Some Bodachs were described as haunting areas that would be particularly unsafe after dark, trying to lure a person into going where they shouldn't. Bodachs often appear to children, trying to lure them into the darkness or to scare them, sometimes harming them directly sometimes only frightening them. In some stories the Bodach would rush down the chimney and seize children who were misbehaving, taking them away (Briggs, 1976). They were also drawn to children who were being loud or crying after dark, as well as those who disobeyed their parents.

There is also a tradition of named Bodachs who have a distinct personality, locality and activity associated with them. One type of named Bodach, Bodach an Sméididh [Beckoning Old Man], would be seen standing near the corner of a house and beckoning with his hands for the viewer to follow him (Campbell, 1900). Another named bodach, MacGlumag na mais, oliath tarrang shìoda, burrach mòr [Son  of Platter Pool from grey spike, silken spike, great caterpillar] sometimes just called Son of Platter Pool, appears to children at windows, gnashing his teeth loudly and flattening his face against the glass; if the child cries out the Bodach takes them away (Campbell, 1900). Another named Bodach is the Bodach Glas [Dark Man] who appeared as a death omen for a certain Scottish clan; he would appear three times and the third time singled doom (Briggs, 1976). In that case the Bodach seems to play a role similar to the Bean Sí in Irish folklore, being connected to a specific family and acting to foretell death within that family line. There is also at least one named Bodach with a friendly nature: normally described as a type of Brownie the Bodachan Sabhaill [Little Old Man of the Barn] was a helpful fairy who would come at night and thresh the crops in the darkness for tired, old farmers (Briggs, 1976).

While they can look and act frightening Bodachs can only enter a home if they are called or invited in (Campbell, 1900). They also rarely attack a person unless the person first puts themselves in the Bodachs power, be it by choosing to follow the fairy, by acknowledging its presence at the window, or by breaking cultural rules around behavior. They are known to take children but otherwise their reputation is ambivalent and focuses more on frightening than harming. In some modern Scottish anecdotal fairylore Bodach is the consort or partner of the Cailleach and in a wider sense modern lore places this fairy in the Unseelie court.

Bodachs are a fascinating type of Scottish fairy, running the gamut in folklore from helpful to harmful, consider in some cases Brownies and most often seen as Bòcans. These little old fairy men appear in the night to frighten children into good behavior, inhabiting the same darkness as ghosts and apparitions, and the safest way to avoid them is to refuse to acknowledge them. In many ways the folklore around the Bodach seems to blend together more common fairylore with other influences and certainly here we see the classic form of the Bogeyman looming large over naughty children in the Bodach's stories.



References
Campbell J., (1900) The Gaelic Otherworld
Bauer, M., and MacDhonnchaidh, U., (2017) Am Faclair Beag
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Cailleach

This article originally appeared in Air n-Aithesc, vol III, issue II, August 2016



The Cailleach

“Ebb-tide has come to me as to the sea;
old age makes me yellow;
though I may grieve thereat,
it approaches its food joyfully….
I am Buí, the Cailleach of Beare;
I used to wear a smock that was ever-renewed…”
-          The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare

The Cailleach, or Caillech in Old Irish, is a complex deity who seems to have roots in Neolithic Ireland. Cailleach is from a word that means ‘veiled woman’ or ‘elderly woman’ but in later usage was a pejorative generally used to mean hag or witch. In Ireland she is called the Cailleach Beara or Beare for the Beara peninsula which is her main habitation, although in folklore she is also sometimes given the epithet of Béarrach; the Old Irish word berach means sharp or horned. The Cailleach Beara’s true name is said to be Buí, a word that may mean ‘yellow’1. Alternately it may originally have been Boí, a word related to the one for cow (bó) and it’s possible that she was at one time a cow goddess who represented the land and its sovereignty on the Beara peninsula2. This idea is somewhat supported by her legendary possession of a powerful bull, the Tarbh Conraidh, who had only to bellow to get a cow with calf. Certainly she is strongly associated with Beara and because of the irregular orthography of Old Irish either version of her name is possible, although Buí is better attested, appearing in the well-known poem ‘The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare’. MacKillop suggests that she may also previously have been known as Dígde, a sovereignty goddess of Munster, and Duineach whose name he gives as meaning ‘[having] many followers’, both of which were subsumed into the single identity of the Cailleach Beara at some point3.

Several different goddesses are called ‘Cailleach’ in Irish myth including the Cailleach Beara of Cork and Cailleach Gearagáin of county Cavan4. The most well-known however is the Cailleach Beara, who is strongly associated with south west Ireland. She is considered a sovereignty figure, the archetypal crone who appears offering the throne to a potential king in exchange for intimacy; those who reject her in this guise will never rule but those who embrace her as an old woman will find her transformed into a beautiful young woman and will themselves become king. She is also credited with creating many of the standing stones and geographic features in various areas, who folklore claims are people or animals that she transformed; her bull the Tarbh Conraidh for example was turned into a stone in a river by her when he tried to swim across it to reach a herd of cows on the other side. In other parts of Ireland including Connacht, Leinster, and Ulster the Cailleach Beara is seen as the spirit of the harvest who inhabits the grain and flees from the scythes in the form of a hare5. In many areas harvest traditions included the practice of leaving the final sheaf standing in the field and naming it the Cailleach, or of dressing the final sheaf as an image of the goddess.
The Cailleach as Buí is said to be one of the four wives of Lugh, although other sources say that she had seven husbands; she is also said to have had 50 foster children6.  The Cailleach is generally described as an old woman but she also can appear young, and is considered the progenitor of some family lines including the Corca Duibhne7. A tenth century poem says that she was the lover of the warrior Fothadh Canainne. Folklore claims that she has two sisters, also named Cailleach of their respective areas, who live in Dingle and Iveragh8.

It is said that the Sliab na gCailligh in county Meath were created when the Cailleach flew over the area and accidently dropped the stones9. She is strongly associated with several areas in Ireland including the Beara peninsula in Munster and Slieve Daeane in Connacht10. Although she is found in Scotland as well she is not considered a pan-Celtic deity and so there is speculation that she represents a likely pre-Celtic divinity that was absorbed into Celtic culture at a later point11.

The Cailleach in Scotland has a different although related character, associated more tentatively with the harvest but also with the winter and storms. Called the Cailleach Bheur [beur meaning sharp or cutting in Gaidhlig] she was associated with the bitter winter wind and snowstorms as well as with creating geographic features which bear her name12. In the 1917 book “Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend” we learn that the goddess Bride (Irish Brighid) ruled over the summer half of the year, from Beltane to Samhain, and the other half of the year was ruled by the Cailleach. There are a variety of stories about how the year changed rulers which either feature the two goddesses contending against each other or describe them as aspects of one being. In one version Angus is the Cailleach’s son who falls in love with Bride, so the Cailleach imprisons her which causes winter to come to the land; only when Angus finally succeeds in freeing her on Imbolc does winter begin to relent13. In other versions of the story the Cailleach must drink from a magical spring, either on Imbolc at which point she transforms into Bride, or at Beltane at which point Bride is freed14.

In the Cailleach we see a complex and ancient deity, perhaps rooted in pre-Celtic belief but certainly once a powerful sovereignty goddess. It was she who created several features of the landscape of Ireland and Scotland making her cosmogenically significantly, and she who controls the storms of winter in Scotland. The Cailleach may appear old or young, and may give sovereignty to kings, even divine kings if we see her as Lugh’s wife and the source of his legitimacy as king of the Tuatha De Danann.  Although she is often considered a more obscure deity today, and her place among the Tuatha De Danann is somewhat uncertain, she seems to have been very significant historically and certainly maintains a powerful place in folklore today.


1Murphy, 1956
2O hOgain, 2006
3MacKillop, 1998
4Smyth, 1988
5O hOgain, 2006
6MacKillop, 1998
7Smyth, 1988
8O hOgain, 2006
9Smyth, 1988
10MacKillop, 1998
11Monaghan, 2004
12ibid
13McIntyre, 2015
14 McNeill; 1959; McIntyre, 2015

References

MacKillop, J., (1998) A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
McIntyre, M., (2015). “The Cailleach Bheara: a Study of Scottish Highland Folklore in Literature and Film”. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/6088609/The_Cailleach_Bheara_A_Study_of_Scottish_Highland_Folklore_in_Literature_and_Film
McNeill, F., (1959). The Silver Bough, volume 2

Monaghan, P., (2004) Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore

Saturday, November 11, 2017

That Time I Unseelied a Tree, and Why You Should Too

So first a story.
I have a fairy tree in my yard and I had the idea at one point to start tying ribbons on it, in the spirit of the rag tree tradition. Now usually a rag tree is by a healing well and the ribbons or bits of cloth tied on it represent prayers for healing of either the person or someone they are praying for. I knew this but still felt drawn to put ribbons on my own tree, and I don't deny I did it badly, because I simply used store bought ribbon. I can say here that my intentions were good, but I've never been a big believer that intentions mitigate harm caused. After a time the tree had quite a lot of ribbons on it, and after a time I started feeling strongly that I needed to take them off - I was even dreaming about it. But I really, really didn't want to remove them. It seemed counterintuitive and sacrilegious to do so, to remove what had been place with prayer and its own little ritual. Yet in the end it became a compulsion, and one day as I walked past the tree on my way to my car I found myself stopping, unable to go on until I removed the ribbons. I went back into the house, found a pair of scissors, and spent enough time that I was late to work taking all the ribbons off. Afterwards I felt a blend of relief and horror at having, effectively, 'unseelied' (unblessed) my tree.

Here's the thing though, as upsetting as it was for me to take those prayer ribbons off that tree, and as much as I felt like I was doing something wrong - was in effect unblessing the tree - what I did was important and necessary. The ribbons I'd put on were synthetic fibers; they were not rotting away with time but instead were strangling the branches they were tied on. In several places when I managed to get the ribbon off there was a clear indent in the branch where the ribbon had started to grow into the tree, and it was obvious to me the harm my actions had caused. I had made a critical mistake in not using natural material and in not tying it loosely so that it would either fall apart naturally or be pulled off by the wind. My well meaning actions would have killed my tree eventually, and removing the ribbons, as much as it pained me to do it, saved it.

That said, there are two main points I want to make here, first about participating in rag tree practices and secondly about removing things already tied to trees at sacred sites. 

Many people today either want to emulate the rag tree practices or look at participating in it while visiting Ireland (or other countries that have the practice) and I am urging everyone to please seriously consider what you are tying to these trees. Recently there have been some good discussion of the importance of proper rag tree practices online both by the Tara Skryne Preservation Group and other travel pages. If you want to tie a rag on a sacred tree you need to be aware firstly that rag trees are very specific trees, usually by a holy well as I've mentioned, and that you can't and shouldn't tie just anything onto the tree. Every tree you run across is not appropriate to tie things to, and just because it's at a sacred site doesn't make it a tree to tie prayers to. Also if you are going to tie things to a tree please use natural, degradable materials. And please don't push coins in o the bark, that will poison the tree. 

When you visit sacred sites and holy wells you will see many strange things tied to rag trees. Some people believe it best to leave what is already tied there alone; others advocate for removing what is and will harm the tree. This is a complicated subject because there are issues with people removing all rags from rag trees, and even cutting the trees down, in protest against the practice itself and I am by no means advocating that. However as an animist and pagan I do think we have an obligation to put the health of the tree before the symbolism of the plastic and synthetic material that is tied to it and slowly killing it. Natural material is fine and should be encouraged, but what amounts to rubbish if left there will only kill the tree that people claim to find sacred.

The reason I began this with my story was to make a point. I was deeply reluctant to take those ribbons down, even though they were my ribbons and I was being told repeatedly to remove them. There was a discussion on a sacred sites travel group I belong to recently about whether it's ethical to remove other people's ribbons from sacred trees, and in my opinion you should, even though I understand the reluctance to remove other people's prayers. Understand it on a deeply personal level. There is an almost atavistic aversion - in my experience - among spiritual people against interfering with other people's spiritual devotions. Yet ultimately we need to look beyond the intention of what have been tied on the trees and to the spirit of the trees and land itself. If we are seeking to respect those spirits, seeking to truly be blessed by these holy places, then we must act in ways that are aligned with that concept. Doing things that kill the sacred trees, ultimately are unblessed - unseely - actions. Removing plastic, non-biodegradable, metal items, no matter what sacred intent was behind their placement is ultimately a blessed, or seely, act because it saves the life of the tree. I titled this post 'the time I unseelied a tree' because that was how it felt, and it was a terrible conflicted feeling. But sometimes we must do what feels wrong in order to ultimately do that which is right.

Removing those ribbons felt like unseelie'ing the tree but in the end it resulted in an increased blessing, and much happier spirits. And I don't regret doing it at all.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Fairy Trees

 Fairies and trees have had a long connection in mythology and folklore. Today I'd like to take a brief look at a selection of trees and the main fairylore associated with them.



I would note that this folklore can be convoluted as the trees themselves were often reputed to have spirits, much like we might understand dryads in a modern context, but beyond this tree-spirit could also be home to or associated with other fairies. These other fairies may live in or near the particular tree but were not bound to it in the way a tree-spirit would be. If the tree were killed the tree spirit would suffer a similar fate, while the associated fairies would simply move on to another place. there are also many trees that are associated with fairies as either a protection against them or as a tree they prefer to be around.

Birch- In Scotland its particularly associated with the Ghillie Dhu who was said to lurk in birch groves (Briggs, 1976). The Ghillie Dhu is a solitary fairy who is gentle and helpful but whose appearance often frightens people. In Ireland however fairies are thought to dislike birch, which is used to drive out spirits, and avoid this tree (MacCoitir, 2003).
Oak- Oaks have a strong association with spirits and fairies. Most notably there is a kind of fairy called 'oakmen' who live in areas where oaks have been cut and are re-growing; they appear as short, solid looking beings wearing red hats who may dangerous to those who trespass in their woods (Briggs, 1976). There is also the well known rhyme of 'fairy folk are in old oaks'. Not all oak fairies are dangerous as one entry in the Dindshenchas discusses learning lore from fairy folk in an oak wood (MacCoitir, 2003).
Rowan- Rowan berries by some accounts are the food of the Tuatha De Danann and by extension some people see them as the food of the fairies in general. Rowan is seen as both a protection against magic and also a conduit for magic, appearing in folklore as a charm against fairy magic and witchcraft but also in stories we see rowan wands used to cast enchantments.
Elm- A communal tree it was believed if one elm was cut down the others would die from grief (Briggs, 1976). The spirits of the trees were so tightly bonded that the death of one would doom them all.
Hawthorn- Strongly associated with the Good People it is believed that its unlucky to bring hawthorn into a home. A lone hawthorn growing in a field is often considered a fairy tree and it is dangerous to bring harm to such a tree because to do so will invite the wrath of Themselves. It's an old custom to leave gifts for the Other Crowd at the base of a lone hawthorn (MacCoitir, 2003).
Blackthorn- Guarded by fairies called Lunantishee who punish anyone who tries to cut blackthorns on Samhain or Bealtaine, going by the old dates which would be Nov 11 or May 11 (Briggs, 1976). MacCoitir suggests that Lunantishee may be an Anglicization of Leannán Sí, connecting the Blackthorn to the concept of fairy lovers. Whether that is true or not the Blackthorn generally had a grim reputation, seen as a dangerous tree that should not be messed with, although like so many others it also had protective qualities.
Ash- Mentioned as a protection against fairies in folklore the Ash was used to reverse or treat maladies caused by fairies (MacCoitir, 2003). These beliefs accorded the tree extra respect, so that it was not burned, some lore relating that any who burned the ash would lose their home to fire (Briggs, 1976). Some stories also mention a person's soul being trapped in an ash or otherwise placed in it.
Willow- It was said that willows walked at night and would follow people travelling alone, and their reputation was overall malevolent (Briggs, 1976). This may connect the Willow more general with water fairies who had a reputation for being dangerous and mercurial like the water itself. Lady Wilde suggests that willows speak in music.
Elder - In England and Scotland the Elder is a protection against witchcraft and evil beings; said to be home to fairies of good intent (Briggs, 1976). In Scotland the sap of the Elder was believed to grant the ability to see the Fairy Rade on Samhain, if the person then stood beneath an Elder (MacCoitir, 2003). In alternate folklore elders are said to be shapechanged witches. Elders are another tree that it is generally believed should never be burned or ill luck will follow the person. In Ireland the Elder has a darker reputation, being associated with both ghosts and seen as a wood that invites fairy mischief; in Ireland and the Isle of Man its believed that fairies ride on Elder twigs and branches (MacCoitir, 2003).

This is only a small selection of trees and some related fairylore; it is by no means exhaustive. I hope though that it illustrates some of the beliefs we can find associated with different common trees, and the way that fairy beliefs intersect with our everyday lives. Trees are all around us, even when we live in the city they can be found, and where there are trees there is folklore and fairylore.


References
Briggs, K., (1976) A Dictionary of Fairies
Wilde (1888) Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland
MacCoitir, N., (2003) Irish Trees

Thursday, November 2, 2017

In Service: Ireland a Year Later

 This Samhain has been an interesting and intense one for me on several levels. It has been busy in purely mundane ways and it has been just as busy in spiritual ways. But more than anything I find myself reflecting whenever my mind isn't set on anything else on being in Ireland this time last year, on my experiences there and the initiation I underwent that I had not expected. I hear the water of Ogulla well, feel it cold on my skin, feel the sandy bottom of the well under my feet. I remember the feel of the mud of Uaimh na gCat under my hands and on my face, the sounds of the cave wrapping around me. When I close my eyes I see in the distance the smoke from the fires on Teamhair rising up in the darkness of a moonless Samhain night, the fires of Tlachtga at my back. Water, and earth, and fire, they all still seem immediate and present.

Uaimh na gCat
So much of life is what we plan it to be, especially spiritually. We have goals, we set intentions, we move forward towards a destination, whatever we perceive that to be. Things may not always work out the way we plan or go as we intend but more often than not we do have clear intentions. Or maybe that's wishful thinking on my part. Certainly my own spiritual life as much as it has wandered and sometimes faltered had always felt like it was in my control. And then Ireland.

Nothing that happened in Ireland was what I had anticipated or expected.

And here I am a year later and I feel like I am the same person I have always been and I am also irrevocably different. I don't know how to feel about that even now. I'm not sure that I know how to put that into words, even now, and that's a truly strange feeling for me who uses words as a tool of expression every day. But how do you explain the way a series of small events, small choices, each built on the other can lead a person inevitably to something that is both entirely predictable and entirely unexpected?

the path to Tlachtga, Samhain night, 2017
So many things in my life up to that point led me there, and yet I never saw that end result coming. I had grown comfortable, complacent, with the way things were, and maybe even a little bit arrogant. Funny how quickly that is washed away when circumstances change and you are moved from feeling like you have some status in the human community to a position where you feel like you have very minimal status in a spiritual context. As I told Lora O'Brien during a recent interview* I feel like prior to that point I served the human community but since that time I have served Themselves, and my connection to them is very much one of service. That shift alone is enormous, and I still don't know for certain where it is taking me. I'm not sure it matters on a personal level. That's one lesson I've learned in the last 12 months, not to be concerned so much about myself and my own ego but to focus on what I am supposed to be doing here for Them, at least as best I can.

For all of that if I had known what I was moving towards, what was going to happen, I would not do anything differently. I would still take that first step forward into initiation and I would still accept the role of priestess of the Daoine Maithe. Like the pull of gravity there was such an inevitability to it all that I don't think I could have chosen differently unless I went all the way back to my childhood and made myself a different person from then, and if it meant losing myself entirely what would be the point? Maybe that's inevitable with them as well, for they are known to consume people one way or another, but to quote Bukowski (probably anyway) "For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it's much better to be killed by a lover."

I chose to accept each step of the way when I could have refused or turned aside, and that has since meant a complete restructuring of things, and at the same time not. I have parted ways from Odin, and am no longer his priestess. I am still connected to Macha but it is not the same. I have been forced to look deeply into what it means to be a priestess when the role I am fulfilling is one of service to the Othercrowd not the human community. And yet at the same time so much has remained the same, changed only in its intensity.

There was a cost, of course, because there's always a cost and because it involves the Daoine Maithe that cost is layered and complicated and still playing out. There have been blessings as well, and I try to remind myself of those as often as possible.

Rathcroghan
Life goes on apace and I am standing now a year out from that pivotal dark moon. This year there was a nearly full moon shining down on me as I went out to make my offerings and celebrate the holiday. That seemed very meaningful, but in my mind the memories linger of the darkness and fires and smell of woodsmoke on the air.


*you can listen to the recorded version by joining Lora's mailing list here http://loraobrien.net/community/