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Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Slua Sí

This week's blog is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Fairies, because of an experience my husband and I had last night.
We were sitting in our living room around 10 o'clock last night when the wind picked up suddenly, so strong and loud that I turned to my husband and noted that it was a bit scary. Then just as suddenly on the wind was the distinct sound of bells jingling, like you find on horses' harnesses sometimes, which really freaked me out, and I said, "Can you hear that?"
He said, "What? The bells? Yeah, what is that?"
And I honestly didn't know what to say because I knew it was probably the Slua or maybe a Fairy Rade and it was really scaring me.
But he pushed and was like, "I know you know more about this stuff than I do, what do you think it is?"
So I told him, "Not all fairies are nice."
He wanted to go out to smoke. I told him in all seriousness to be careful - mind you we live in the suburbs - and if he saw anything to come back in. He asked saw anything like what? And I said I didn't know like if he saw any horses. And he rolled his eyes and asked me several times why there would be a horse in our neighborhood? So I just kept saying if you see or hear one come back in right away.
He goes out, and within 90 seconds comes back in, because he saw a strange red light and could hear horses' hooves on the stone.
And now a few minutes later the wind is gone and its totally calm.
Also I had to give my husband a crash course on who the Slua Sí are and what to do in emergency situations like that.
So, on that note, a bit about the Slua sidhe....




Slua Sí

I have already mentioned that some fairies are more naturally kindly inclined towards us than others, and some are generally more malicious. Those that fall under the auspices of the Unseelie Court are generally feared but one type that is especially feared is the Slua sí [fairy host]. In Scottish folklore the most daunting fairies are those of the Sluagh (Briggs, 1976). The Slua travels in whirlwinds, or on the wind more generally and because of this the whirlwind is called the séideán sídhe [fairy blast] or sitheadh gaoithe [thrust of wind] and sometimes by the similar sounding name of sí gaoithe [fairy wind] (O hOgain, 1995; MacKillop, 1998). Usually invisible to mortal eyes while traveling in the form of a wind, in Scotland the Slua is also said to appear in the form of clouds (Carmichael, 1900). The Slua is most likely to be active at midnight and most often appears at night in general, but can show up at any time, sometimes startling farmers working in the fields (Evans Wentz, 1911). Anyone who had reason to be out at night, and more so if they were out alone, needed to be careful to avoid the fairy host.

The Slua sí were known to force a human to go along with them while they engaged in their malicious endeavors, making the unlucky person aid them in their activities (O Suilleabhain, 1967). These endeavors often included kidnapping other people including brides, a common theme in many different types of fairy stories, and doing the new victim mischief. Anyone caught out alone, especially at night, or in a place they shouldn't be in could be swept up by the Slua with little choice but to go along with the Fairy Host until they were released. People taken this way might be said to be "in the fairies" (O Suilleabhain, 1967). In folklore people taken by the Slua sí could be taken and left far away, sometimes in foreign countries with no option but to find their way slowly home, or else may be returned to the place where they were taken mostly unharmed. The Slua is utterly capricious in how they treat those they take.

There are also tales of those who were out walking at night and saw another person who had been or was being taken by the Slua, usually as the Slua was passing near the bystander. A folk method to get the Host to release anyone they may have taken is to throw the dust from the road, an iron knife, or your left shoe towards them while saying "This is yours; that is mine!" (McNeill, 1956).Those known to have been taken and released were gone to for advice relating to the fairies and seen as being quite knowledgeable about them, just as those who had more amicable relationships with the fairies were (O Suilleabhain, 1967).

The Slua may include fairy horses, hounds, and a variety of fairy beings, as well as the human dead. In Scotland some people believe that the Slua sí, who are also called the fairy host of the air, are spirits of those humans who died with unforgiven sins or filled with sin (McNeill, 1956; Briggs, 1976; Carmichael, 1900). Evans Wentz related stories of the Slua as both the mortal dead and as fallen angels, showing that the belief was not entirely clear-cut (Evans Wentz, 1911). In Irish folktales related by authors like Yeats and Hyde however the fairy host are distinct from the human dead and act like fairies in other tales, engaging in behavior such as stealing human brides to force them to wed members of their own group. ...[T]here is no simple division to be found here and it is likely that the Slua represent both fairies who were never human and some who may once have lived as humans but are now counted among the fairy host.

The fairy host, like other fairies, is usually invisible to humans but can be sensed in the appearance of a sudden wind and the sound of voices, armor clinking, or people shouting (O Suilleabhain, 1967). Hyde describes it in the story "Guleesh Na Guss Dhu" this way: "he heard a great noise coming like the sound of many people running together, and talking, and laughing, and making sport, and the sound went by him like a whirl of wind..." (Hyde, 1890, p 76). Some say the Slua appears as a dust devil which moves over roads and hedges as the Good Neighbors travel (JCHAS, 2010). When the whirlwind appeared people would react by averting their eyes, turning their backs, and praying, or else saying "Good luck to them, the ladies and gentlemen" (O hOgain, 1995; JCHAS, 2010, p. 319). This of course reflects the common practice of appeasing the more dangerous fairies both by speaking of them in polite, positive terms and also of wishing them well, giving a blessing in hopes they respond in kind. This was done to avert any harm caused by the close proximity of the Host and to hopefully avoid drawing their attention in a negative way. The sí gaoithe [fairy wind] which indicated the Slua was present, could bring illness or cause injury as it passed by, contributing to its fearsome reputation (MacKillop, 1998).

The Slua was known for being mercurial and prone to malicious behavior and unlike more sedentary types of Fair Folk they are not easily appeased but most often must be warded off, usually with iron, driven away, or out-witted. They are strongly associated with the Unseelie court and one Queen of the Unseelie, Nicnevin, in particular.



References:

MacKillop, J., (1998) A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology
McNeill, M (1956). The Silver Bough, volume 1
O Suilleabhain, S., (1967). Nosanna agus Piseoga na nGael
O hOgain, D., (1995) Irish Superstitions
Briggs, K., (1976). A Dictionary of Fairies
Carmichael, A., (1900) Carmina Gadelica
Evans Wentz, W., (1911). The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Hyde, D., (1890) Beside the Fire
JCHAS (2010) Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society

The Slua is sometimes seen as related to the idea seen on the continent of the Wild Hunt as spirits who travel the air and can take people.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Translating the Echtra Condla


Ectra Condla Chaim meic Cuind Chetchathaig inso.

Cid día n-apar Art Óenfer. ni handsa. Lá ro boí Condla  Rúad mac Cuind Chetchathaig for láim a athar i n-uachtor Usnig. Co n-acca in mnaí i n-étuch anetargnaid na dochum. Asbert Condla. Can dodeochad a ben or se. Dodeochadsa for in ben a tírib beó áit inna bí bás nó peccad na imorbus. Domelom fleda búana can rithgnom caíncomrac leind cen debaid. síd mór i taam conid de suidib nonn ainmnigther áes síde. Cía a gillai ol Cond fria mac acailli.  úair ni acca nech in mnaí acht Condla a óenur. Ro recair in ben.
.r. Adgladadar mnaí n-óic n-alaind soceneoil nad fresci bás na sentaid ro charus Condla Rúad cotgairim do Maig Mell inid rí Boadag bidsuthain rí cen gol cen mairg inna thír ó gabais flaith.
.r. Tair lim a Condlai Rúaid muinbrec cainelderg barrbude fordotá óas gnúis corcorda bid ordan do rígdelbae má chotuméitís ní chrínfa do delb a hoítiu a haldi co bráth brindach.
 Asbert Cond fria druid Corán a ainm side. ar rochúalatár uili an ro rádi in ben cenco n-acatár.
.r. Not álim a Chorán mórchétlaig .i. canas chetla mórdanaig forbond dodomanic as dom moo áirli as dom moo cumachtu níth náchim thánic o gabsu flaith mu imchomruc delb nemaicside cotoméicnigidar immum macc rochaín d'airchelad tre thoathbandu dí láim rígdain brectu ban mberir.
 Docháchain iarom in druí forsin nguth inna mná connach cúala nech guth na mná & conna haccai Condla in mnaí ond úair sin . In tan trá luide in ben ass re rochetul in drúad dochorastár ubull do Condlu. Boi Condla co cend mís cen mir cen dig cen bíad. Nirbo fíu leis nách túara aile do thomailt acht a ubull. Ní dígbad ní día ubull cach a tomled de acht bá ógslan beus. Gabais eólchaire íarom inní Condla imon mnaí atconnairc. A llá bá lán a mí baí for láim a athar i mMaig Archommin inti Condla co n-aca chuci in mnaí cétna a n-asbert
fris.
 .r. Nall .i. uasal suide saides Condla eter marbu duthainai oc idnaidiu éca uathmair. Totchurethar bíi bithbi at gérat do daínib Tethrach ardotchiat cach dia i ndálaib t'athardai eter du gnathu inmaini.
 Amal rochúala Cond guth na mná. asbert fria muintir gairid dam in druíd atchíu doreilced a tenga di indiu. Asbert in ben la sodain.
.r. A Chuind Chetcathaig druidecht nís gradaigther ar is bec rosoich for messu ar Trág Máir. firién co n-ilmuinteraib ilib adamraib motáticfa a recht conscéra brichta drúad tardechta ar bélaib demuin duib dolbthig.
 Ba ingnad tra la Cond nicon taidbred Condla aithesc do neoch acht tísed in ben. In deochaid ol Cond fót menmainsiu a radas in ben a Condlai. Asbert Condla ní reid dam sech  cach caraim mo doíni. Rom gab dano eólchaire immón mnaí. Ro frecat in ben andside. co n-epert inso.
 .r.Tathud airunsur álaib fri toind t'eólchaire ofadib im loing glano condrísmaís  ma roísmais síd Boadaig.
.r. Fil tír n-aill nad bu messu do saigid atchíu tairnid in gréin ngil cid cían ricfam ría n-adaig.
 .r. Is ed a tír subatar menmain cáich dodomchela ni fil cenel and nammá acht mná & ingena.
 O tharnic dond ingin a haithesc. foceird Condla iar sudiu bedg úadib co mboí isind noi glano .i. isin churuch comthend commaidi glanta. Atconnarcatar úadib mod nad mod .i. in fat rosiacht índ radairc a roisc. Ro ráiset íarom in muir úadib & ni aicessa o sin ille & ní fes cid dollotar. A mbátar fora n-imrátib isind airiucht co n-aicet Art chucu. Is a oenur d'Art indiu ol Cond dóig ni fil bráthair. Búadfocol an ro radis or Coran iss ed ainm forbia co bráth Art Óenfer conid de ro len in t-ainm ríam o sin immach.

 - Lebor na hUidre


The Adventure of Connla the Fair son of Conn of the Hundred Battles.

 Why was Art called the 'only man'. Not hard. One day Connla the Red son of Conn of the Hundred Battles was by his father's hand on the top of Uisneach. He saw a woman in a strange garment coming towards them. Connla.said, "Where do you come from, oh woman?" said he. 
"I come," said the woman,  "from an immortal land where there is no death or the sin of transgressions. We have our harvest feast without labor; peace cloaks us without strife. We live in the great fairy hill and are called the people of the fairy hill."
"Who [do you speak to], oh boy?" said Conn to his son. Because no one could see the woman but Connla alone. 
The woman answered. "He speaks to a beautiful young woman, well-born, who expects neither death nor old age. I love Red Connla. I invite him to Maig Mell [pleasant plain] where ever-living Boadag* is king, a king without weeping without woe in his land since he has taken sovereignty. Come with me oh Red Connla speckled-neck like a red-candle, yellow haired above a crimson countenance, lasting honor your royal form if you come with me  your form will not wither from it's youth and beauty until deceitful Doomsday.
 Conn spoke with his druid, Corán was his name. Every other one had heard the things the woman discussed although they could not see her. [he said] "I entreat you, oh Corán greatly-songful that is singing songs, greatly-artful, an excessive demand has been put to me, your counsel for me, a strong power that has not come to me since I took sovereignty, an encounter against an invisible form, my fair son is compelled, stealing him through a heathen woman from my kingly two hands with a woman's spoken spells."
  The druid chanted then against the woman's voice so that no one then could hear the woman's voice and Connla couldn't see the woman after that time. As the woman went because of the chanting of the druid she threw an apple to Connla. Connla was to the end of a month without a mouthful of food without a drink without nourishment. He found nothing worthwhile of any of the produce for him to consume but his apple**. The apple never grew less each day he ate it, but remained whole. Connla was taken with yearning for the woman he had seen. 
He was at his father's hand on the day a month later at Maig Archommin when Connla saw the same woman coming towards him and she said to him, "Noble, that is a noble seat where Connla sits between the short-lived dead who are awaiting dreadful death. The ever-living ones invite you to the champions of the men of Tethrach; they see you every day in the assembly of your native land between your beloved companions."
 Thus Conn heard the woman's voice. He asked his people to take to him the Druid as he saw her tongue was freed today. 
~The woman said then. "Oh Conn of the Hundred-battles  you should not love Druidism for it's small success, on it will be judgement at the Mighty Death. A righteous one [will come] with many numerous people, wonderfully quick his redemption, his law destroys druidic incantations taught from the mouth of a black demon with magical powers."~
 It was strange to Conn that he didn't see Connla respond to anyone except when the woman came. "Have they spread" said Conn, "through your feelings, the words of the woman oh Connla?" 
Connla said, "It is not reconciled to me beyond every love of my people. I have been taken thus by yearning for the woman." 
 The woman answered them there; she spoke thus, "If you want to unite wishes against the waves of your yearning come with me in my crystal ship, joined, we may reach the síd of Boadag. There is another land without death I judge we could seek, I see as the sun lowers to the water it is far yet we may reach it before night. It is a cheerful land that everyone's feelings encompass, no people are there except only women and girls." 
 When the noble girl was finished with her speech Connla launched thereupon from his place and leapt into the crystal vessel that is the strong skiff [currach] well made of crystal. They saw them going a way that is no way that is until they went out of sight. They voyaged afterwards across the sea and were not seen in that place [again] and it wasn't known where they went. 
There was on them a considering of the nobility that was with Art who was with them. 
"There is only Art today," said Conn because that was his son's brother. 
"Powerful-words you have said^," said Coran, "His name forever until Judgement will be Art Óenfer [only man] with the name before from his youth there released."



*I might suppose that Boadag is a form of Boadach meaning 'victorious, triumphant; having many outstanding qualities' (eDIL. n.d.)
**on an unrelated side note I have a personal theory about the need for people being taken into Fairy to either have earthly things purged from them or have Fairy inserted into them through consuming it by eating or drinking, which is why the taboo against consuming Fairy food and drink. This story, from the 11th century and likely dating to earlier oral material, nicely reflects this same idea in Connla's eating of the apple. 
~ I would strongly suggest that this odd passage which is inserted without real context and which is a prophecy of the coming of and triumph of Christianity over Druidism is likely an anachronism inserted by scribes, particularly because Conn doesn't respond to it. However judge for yourself.  
^ idiomatically this is given in the eDIL as 'you've hit the nail on the head' or we may take it more simply as 'exactly' but I've given it here as literally as possible. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Saint Patrick, Druids, and Snakes

This is a revised, updated edition of a blog I wrote 5 years ago now with added Jocelin of Furness.




One thing that modern paganism struggles with is history, both its context and accuracy. Many things that are taken as fact in paganism today are not actually supported by historic material, and many things that are believed to be ancient are really modern. This isn't always a judgment on these things, but it points to the ease with which inaccurate information can be proliferated and believed, especially when it has emotional appeal. One prime example of this within the Celtic pagan community is the idea that saint Patrick was some sort of genocidal maniac who slaughtered Druids and that the snakes he drove out in his stories were a metaphor for Druids. So let's take a look at the actual history. 

The historic saint Patrick was not actually Irish by birth. Back somewhere around the end of the 4th century in Britain - no one knows exactly where, except that it was likely on the coast - a boy named Maewyn Succat was born to a wealthy Roman official named Calpurius (Awesome Stories, 2012). Maewyn was born into a Christian family but according to his later writings he didn't consider himself especially devout. When he was 16 he was kidnapped, along with many other people from his father's household, and taken into slavery in Ireland where he was made a shepherd (Saint Patrick, nd). Among the hills and sheep Maewyn found solace in his father's religion, before eventually escaping after 6 years and making his way, eventually, back to Britain where he joined the church (Awesome Stories, 2012). At some point Maewyn took the name Particius, later anglicized to Patrick, and decided that he had a calling from his God to return to Ireland to preach to the people there (Awesome Stories, 2012). 

Unlike the common belief though, Patrick wasn't the first Bishop in Ireland - there were several previous bishops including Palladius who was sent by the Pope in 429 (O hOgain, 1999). At this point in the early 5th century Ireland already had a small but settled Christian population complete with churches, monasteries, priests and bishops (O hOgain, 1999). What distinguished Patrick was that unlike the other Irish priests and bishops he did feel that evangelizing was important. Patrick returned to Ireland and traveled around trying to establish himself. He claims to have had some success and baptized "thousands" of people, although it is impossible to confirm or deny these claims. He also had many difficulties including, apparently, being accused of accepting money for baptisms as well taking other bribes and being beaten and robbed and repeatedly threatened with death (Saint Patrick, nd). Unlike the other Irish Christians of the time Patrick was an evangelist and did seek to convert people, but in his 30 years of ministry in Ireland he did not seem to have had any stunning success; probably because the Irish did not seem overly concerned with or threatened by Christianity and may have initially just incorporated it along with their pagan beliefs (Da Silva, 2009). After Patrick's death, most likely on March 17th 461, very little was written about him for several hundred years. The reality is, despite the later hype, he fell into relative obscurity. 

     Ireland remained pagan for at least another 200 years before the population became mostly Christian, and that was when the tale of Patrick really took off. In the 7th century, about 200 years after Patrick died, his hagiography was written, the Life of Saint Patrick by Muirchu maccu Mactheni, and the Patrick of Muirchu's story was very different than the historical Patrick. The historic Patrick and the Patrick of Miurchu's writing were so different in fact that modern scholars now differentiate between the two (Da Silva, 2009). Muirchu's Patrick was a bold, vindictive, confrontational, wonder-worker who preformed miracles and was said to have destroyed the Druids in Ireland (O hOgain, 1999). This mythic Partick - unlike the humble historical Patrick who authored the Confessio - lost no opportunity to curse those who defied him or kill those who opposed him. In one of the stories in the Life of Saint Patrick, for example, the saint uses his God's "power" to crush a Druid's skull and calls an earthquake to kill many others (Da Silva, 2009). In another tale Patrick was said to have turned himself and his entire retinue into deer to escape pursuit. It should be pretty obvious that this is pure invention, something to appeal to a 7th century audience looking to hear about wonders and drama on par with the other Irish myths but not anything relating to actual events. In fact some scholars have pointed out that had Patrick actually gone in and tried to convert by the sword he would have ended up martyred for his trouble. To quote the excellent article by  Da Silva "It is clear that the pagan Irish would not have tolerated the behavior of the mythical Saint Patrick. There was no way Patrick could use coercion or the threat of force as part of his strategy to convert the pagans. E. A. Thompson writes that "the pagans were far too powerful and menacing . . . . And he was doubtlessly aware that if he gave any sign of trying to impose his views on the Irish pagans against their will, his mission would come to an abrupt and bloody end" (90)." (Da Silva, 2009). 
  

In the 12th century Patrick's story was written down again, this time by an English monk named Jocelin of Furness who specialized in writing hagiographies. He was known for taking existing material already written about saints and re-working it for the Anglo-Norman elite (Koch, 2005). His 'Life of Patrick' was written for several important Irish figures including the archbishop of Armagh and bishop of Down, and was typical of all of his works. It is in this book that we see for the first time the story of Patrick driving out the snakes, an idea which is strikingly similar to stories from the lives of other previous European saints particularly saint Hilare of France. As Jocelin claimed: "and by the power of his prayers he freed all these likewise from the plague of venomous reptiles. But other islands, the which had not believed at his preaching, still are cursed with the procreation of those poisonous creatures." (O'Leary, 1880). In other words Ireland doesn't have snakes because Patrick drove them out with his piety and his conversion of Ireland but since the rest of the world didn't listen to Patrick we all still have snakes. The reader should also note that according to Jocelin saint Patrick also found the staff of Jesus (yes that Jesus) while he was in Rome, and had a personal tete a tete with God himself in Jocelin's words "even as Moses" had and was assured that God would hear and answer all his prayers (O'Leary, 1880). I'll spare you the rest but let's just say it involves a lot of raising the dead - like a lot - a lot of Druids dying by Patrick's awesome prayers to God and tens of thousands of people converting. Which is my nice way of saying this is neither a trustworthy historical source nor one that shied away from Patrick slaying Druids with his mighty God-prayers, making metaphor really unnecessary. 

The point to all of this is that the Patrick we are familiar with today is mostly a mythic figure, created by a great public relations department. The historical Patrick didn't actually do very much and it wasn't until hundreds of years later, when politics in some of the churches he founded meant the need for a powerful figure, and the Church was looking to complete the conversion of the remaining pagans, that he was reinvented as the super-saint we know today. Many aspects of saint Patrick's story seem as well to involve the saint being inserted into older mythology, such as in some of the stories surrounding Lughnasa where saint Patrick takes over the role of Lugh in fighting off the forces of darkness and chaos to secure the harvest (MacNeill, 1962). This would have been a logical substitution over time as the new religion replaced the old. Beyond that I have my own idea about how a British born Roman ended up as the patron saint of Ireland, but that probably falls into the realm of a conspiracy theory so I'll leave it off this blog. 

    Why does all this matter to me? Well, for one I have always felt strongly that bad history does paganism no favors. For another thing I can't see any purpose to feeling outraged today over something that didn't even actually happen 1560 years ago, or for that matter demonizing someone who didn't actually do very much. I just don't see any point in buying into another faith's mythology in a way that creates feelings of anger and negativity in my own. I am an Irish-focused pagan and I am a Druid and I know from studying history that both Irish paganism and Druidism went on well after Patrick, that his life as we know it today is just a fancy story made up to replace older myths, and that in the end Patrick has no more meaning to me than what I give him. Why should I give him power over my life by believing he was greater than he was? I admire his devotion to his own faith and his courage in going back to a country where he had been taken by force as a slave, but beyond that he's just another historical figure in a sea of historical figures. 


   Now on to the snakes. Another big aspect of Saint Patrick's day for pagans is the idea that the story of Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland was actually an allegory for his driving out of the Druids. This idea is pretty well integrated into media and common belief; many people repeat it and there are even modern celebrations of "All Snakes Day" in honor of the triumphant return of the modern Druids. Now,  I am all in favor of the snake as a modern symbol of Druids - plenty of wonderful symbolism there since snakes are energized by the sun and "reborn" each spring out of the earth after hibernating, eat little fluffy things, often are passed by unseen, not to mention the more obvious associations with wisdom and the historic Gaulish Druid's eggs -  and I think the idea of a modern All Snakes Day is pretty cool. The history though just isn't there for any connection either of Saint Patrick with snakes or of the story being about Druids. 


Firstly, Ireland hasn't had snakes since before the last ice age, so there never were any snakes to be driven out by anyone (National Zoo, n.d.). Second of all, and more importantly, common versions of the legend today say that he drove out the snakes and toads (toads being very rare and snakes as we've established being non-existent) (Banruadh, 2006). Jocelin's version has him driving out all the venomous reptiles (O'Leary, 1880). For people living in Ireland after Patrick this story would have been a great explanation of why those animals weren't in Ireland, because there is no reason to think the 7th century or 12th century stories were allegory. Quite frankly the rest of both of Patrick's hagiographies have him dueling Druids right and left, killing those who oppose him with callous righteousness, so why would the story suddenly get cryptic about him driving the Druids out? Every other page was proclaiming it proudly! No, this particular tidbit was always meant to be literal. The earliest reference I have found to anyone thinking the snakes meant Druids (and thanks to the friend who helped me find it) is in the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries from 1911 where someone states that he believes based on a story that because a certain place was where the Druids last stronghold was and also the place Saint Patrick drove the snakes that the snakes must represent the Druids, but it's just faulty logic (Evans Wentz, 1911). The snakes in the story were just meant to be snakes, a way to explain why Ireland has none and also to give a solid real world example of Patrick's power. 

In saint Patrick's Confessio the man himself is pretty clear that he is uncertain if he had any real effect on Ireland, although he hopes that he did. It reads as a rather humble work written by a very normal person. The later hagiographies written 200 and 700 years after he died are utterly fanciful stories that re-cast the man into the role of a superhero for the Christian faith. They have Patrick murdering Druids with prayer, raising the dead, turning himself and his people into deer, and all manner of fantastic things, including the well known driving out of the snakes and the less well known casting out of demons. Later folklore would expand on this and eventually in the 19th century draw a direct link between the literal snakes and the literal historic Druids to create a modern metaphor that has gained enormous popularity. Its important to understand though that this metaphor is an entirely modern construction and that the history is layered and tells a very different story. As modern pagans I think we do ourselves a disservice to give too much attention to the myths of another religion, created as propaganda to both put down pagan beliefs long after the conversion and for complex political reasons within the Church itself. 

References:
http://www.awesomestories.com/religion/st-patrick-of-st-patricks-day/maewyn-succat--kidnapping-victim
Saint Patrick (n.d.) Saint Patrick's Confessio http://www.cin.org/patrick.html

O'Leary, J., (1880) The Most Ancient Lives of Saint Patrick Including the Life by Jocelin
 B. Da Silva (2009) Saint Patrick, the Irish Druids, and Ireland Conversion to Christianity http://www.strangehorizons.com/2009/20090727/da_silva-a.shtml
D. O hOgain (1999) the Sacred Isle

Koch, J., (2005). Celtic Culture vol 1
M. MacNeill (1962) The Festival of Lughnasa
W. Y. evans Wentz (1911). the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/ffcc/ffcc310.htm
http://branruadh.blogspot.com/2006/03/so-i-have-promised-so-i-have-done.html
http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/ReptilesAmphibians/NewsEvents/irelandsnakes.cfm

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Translating the Untranslated part 5 - Firgol's Prophecy


There are multiple passages in the Cath Maige Tuired which are not translated in the popular English version we have to work with, that is those by Stokes and Gray. One such passage is the prophecy given by Firgol mac Mámais, a druid of the Tuatha Dé Danann, before the battle. Stokes omits the passage entirely. Gray includes only the opening of: "Then Firgol mac Mámois, the druid, was prophesying the battle and strengthening the Tuatha Dé, saying, 'Battle will be waged..." The ellipses after the passage indicate the omission of the rest of the original Irish text and Gray picks up at the following section, excluding the paragraph of the prophecy itself. as part of my effort to publicly offer the sections of the CMT that have not often been translated before I am including Firgol's prophecy here.
The original text is:
Boí Figol mac Mámais an drai og taircetal an catha ocus oc nertodh Túath nDéa, gonad and atbert, "Firfidhir nith na boto tria agh tithris muir ninglas nemnadbeo brogoll brofidh airideu doifid Lug Lamfhadae. Brisfid bemionna uathmara Ogmae orruderc dó iar-beo rig. Soifider cisai, nófither bethai, ticfithir airim ethae, maigfithir blicht túatha. Bithsaer cach ina flaithmaigh. Cenmair tairgebai bith bioas bithsaer cách niba daer nech; a núadha focichart-de rind nith, ocus firfider nith."
- Cath Maige Tuired, Gray edition

A fairly literal translation could be:
Firgol mac Mámais the young druid was there prophesying the battle and strengthening the Tuatha Dé, so that there he said: "Battle will be realized the fire wave of battle the sea ebbs green-waved not to be revived a great amount guarding a dense forest Lug Lamfhadae will avenge. The great hero Ogma is eager to break the phantom sea to him after a living king. Engaged in exacting tribute, Celebrating lives, Coming an enclosure is obtained, a plain of forts, a milk territory. Freemen with territory each in sovereignty a plain. Long lasting offering they are gathering territory freemen with territory each without anyone being a serf; from núadha fierce-eyed surpassing the point of battle, and battle will be realized."

A slightly smoother English translation might be:
Firgol mac Mámais the young druid was there prophesying the battle and strengthening the Tuatha Dé, so that there he said: "Battle will be realized, the fire-waves of the battle will ebb with the green-waved sea, not to be revived, a huge amount guarding a dense forest will be avenged by Lugh of the long-arm. Ogma, the mighty hero, is eager to break the phantom sea. Afterwards he will be a king in life. Engaged in exacting tribute, celebrating lives, arriving to obtain an enclosure of land, a plain of forts, a territory of milk, freemen with land, each with sovereignty of a plain, a long lasting offering they are gathering territory, freemen each with land, without anyone being a slave; from Nuada fierce-eyed warrior surpassing the point of battle, battle will be realized."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Fairies, Invisibility, and Old Irish Mythology


It is generally understood in modern folklore that the Fair Folk cannot be seen unless they choose to be or unless a person has some special ability or power to see them. The idea of the Good People being able to go unseen by mortal eyes is well accepted but not necessarily well understood and can often lead to discussion of the related subject of whether or not the fairies have physical forms. This seems to be rooted in the modern perception that we cannot see them because they are insubstantial or exist entirely as energetic beings, rather than that we cannot see them because they do not want us to see them. I would argue that they do indeed have physical forms, based on the amount of folklore in which they interact directly and substantially with people and the number of stories where children are produced. However that issue aside we are left with an assumption that the Fair Folk can become, effectively, invisible as an idea that is embedded in folklore. I think it may be worth looking at how far back that idea stretches in order to appreciate how deeply rooted it actually is.

Although some people today may attribute this ability to newer folklore relating to fairy glamour or even see it as evidence of fairies fading from this world, when we look at Irish mythology we see the same power attributed to them. We can find evidence of the concept in Irish mythology for as long as we have evidence of the fairy folk themselves:

1. "Oenfer sund chucund innossa a Chucucán", ar Loég...."Acht ni saig nech (fair) & ní saig-som dana for nech, feib nacha n-aicced nech issin dúnud chethri n-ollchóiced hErend"
"
Is fír aní sin a daltán," for se. "Cia dom chardib Sídchaire-sa..."

-Tain Bo Cuailigne, 12th century from oral material that dates earlier
[A single man coming towards us now, oh Cu Chulainn," said Laeg...."But none advance on him and he advances on no one, as if no one saw him in all the camp of the four grand provinces of Ireland."
"The man coming there, oh fosterling," said he, "he is to me a friend from the fairy-troop..."]

2. "Síd mór i taam conid de suidib nonn ainmnigther áes síde."
 "Cía a gillai" ol Cond fria mac acailli. úair ni acca nech in mnaí acht Condla a óenur."
 - Echtra Condla, 11th century material likely dating to the 8th century
["We live in the great fairy hill and are called the people of the fairy hill."
"Who [do you speak to], oh boy?" said Conn to his son. Because no one could see the woman but Connla alone.]

3. "Lá n-and doib a n-ingenaib uilib isind inbiur oca fothrocud co n-accatar in marcach isa mmag cucu dond usciu.....Etain indiu. .n. Dochúaid úadib in t-óclaech iar sain iocus ní fetatar can dodeochaid la cid iarom."
 - Tochmarc Etaine, 14th century, language dated to 9th century
[One day it happened to them that the girls on this occasion were at a river-mouth and were washing when they saw a horseman on the plain from the noble waters...(he recites a poem claiming Etain as one of the sidhe and predicting war on her behalf)...Etain at that time went from the young man and was different afterwards and they didn't know whence he came from or yet went afterwards.]

In all of these examples, from texts written between 1,000 and 600 years ago but generally based on oral material hundreds of years older, we see people of the sidhe coming to interact with people in our world but remaining unseen by those they didn't want to be seen by. Cu Chulainn's friend among the sidhe walks through the encampment of the men of Ireland, the army who at the time was fighting against Cu Chulainn and Ulster, unimpeded and as Laeg relates unseen. Connla's fairy woman, who has come to court him and tempt him to join her in the sidhe, appears next to him and talks to him but only he can see and hear her until she chooses to speak to his father Conn as well*. The rider of the sidhe who speaks a prophecy about Etain appears and seemingly disappears with no one the wiser as to where he came from or where he went afterwards. There are other similar stories in other texts, including the appearance of the fairy woman Fidelm in the Tain Bo Cuailigne. In the exact same way we find tales in later folklore of people of the fairy hills who appear to specific people but not others or who can choose who sees them in our world. 

We find this power to go unseen among the Tuatha Dé Danann as well as the fairy folk, but there is some persuasive evidence that it is an ability that the fairies had first. This power seems to have come to the Tuatha Dé Danann from their connection to the Good Neighbors and particularly from Manannán's gift of the Féth Fiadha. The Féth Fiadha is a magical mist or veil, likely a type of enchantment, which hides those under its power by making them invisible or otherwise deceiving the sight of those who looked at them so they were hidden. We find a discussion of this in the story 'Altram Tige Dá Medar' where the Féth Fiadha is given to the Tuatha Dé Danann by Manannán so that they "could not be seen" and he also teaches them "to carry on their mansions in the manner of the people of the fair-sided Land of Promise and fair Emhain Ablach" (Dobs, 1929). Manannán is also the one in that version of the story who allocated the sidhe to the Tuatha Dé Danann and decided who would live where. From this we can safely gather that it was Manannán who taught the Tuatha Dé Danann to live among the Fairy folk after they were forced into the sidhe by the Gaels. We may also perhaps conclude that it was the Daoine sidhe, through Manannán, who taught the Tuatha Dé Danann how to move unseen and how to live in the sidhe, not the other way around. 

Ultimately the evidence we have from Irish mythology shows us that the idea of the Fair Folk going unseen, or being selectively seen, can be traced back in writing at least 1,000 years. If we accept scholars' assertions that the oldest text discussed here, the Echtra Condla, can be further backdated based on language to the 7th century** then we are looking at a 1,400 year old story of a fairy woman who was seen by one person in a crowd. The ability by the Good People to make themselves invisible is one that is not only deeply ingrained in their mythology and folklore, but even seems to be something they taught to the Irish Gods. This power then rather than a modern concept is one of the oldest and most significant magics that we are aware of the Daoine Maithe possessing. 


*Later in the story Conn's druid is able through magic to temporarily hide her entirely from Connla so that she cannot keep courting him, but he is apparently unable to force her to reveal herself. 
**some scholars feel the 8th or 9th century is more likely while others argue for dates as early as the 7th. See Beveridge 'Children Into Swans' and Oskamp 'Echtra Condla' in Etudes Celtiques 14 for further discussion on dating of this manuscript. 

Reference
Dobs, M (1929) Zeitschrift fur Celtische Philologie vol 18



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Reality of Dreams

For many people dreaming can be an important aspect of spirituality. We dream, and after waking we seek meaning in our dreams. We look for interpretations, we try to decode symbols, we puzzle out each incident and occurrence, every word and conversation, seeking deeper meanings either from our subconscious or from higher powers using our sleeping mind to speak to us. And yet at least from a Western perspective this idea of decoding dreams is largely new, a filter that comes to our culture from modern psychology. There was a time before when dreams were seen as their own reality, and what happened in dreams was given the same weight and significance as what happened in the waking world.



In Old Irish the word aislinge means both dream and vision, and it used to be that the two concepts in most cultures - pagan and Christian - were not sharply divided as we might find them viewed today. A dream and a vision were two possible terms for the same experience, and both were things that occured when the spirit went somewhere or communicated with something while the body slept. In records we have of visionary experiences often the person relates being taken somewhere and directly seeing or participating in events which may be portentous or divine (in the case of Christian visions) or may involve the person being taken to Otherworlds (in the case of pagan dreams and later the dreams of the common people). The common thread that unites these narratives is the idea that what was seen and experienced was real and valid on its own merits and that this reality was tangible i.e. could have physical effects in the waking world. People might correctly predict an event based on what was seen in a dream-vision or they might wake with a physical token of their nighttime experiences, be that marks on their body or an actual item brought back from their wanderings*. 

It was not uncommon for a person, while dreaming, to travel to Fairy or to be contacted by Otherworldly spirits, or even for a person's spirit to travel out in this world. There was an implicit belief that what occured to and with us while we slept was just as real as what occured while we were awake. We find stories in mythology like the Aislinge Oenguso of a woman who appears to the deity Oengus at night while he dreams but has a noticeable physical effect on him and who has an unquestionable reality. In folklore there are stories of people who might spend years in the Otherworld while only moments passed here and they appeared to onlookers to be sleeping or in a trance. In one such story a man who seemed to sleep for a few minutes in a field experienced several years living in Fairy, enjoying a pleasant time there until he broke a taboo and was banished, finding himself sent back to the time and place he left. We also have stories of medieval witches who would be seen sleeping in their beds while they were simultaneously seen by other people elsewhere awake and active. It seemed that the soul was as busy at night as it had been during the day, the only difference being whether it made use of the body or not. 



The erosion of the value of dreaming would eventually begin with Christianity's attempt to control the powerful messages gained through dreams. This was done by creating a hierarchy wherein ecclesiastical dreams and visions were direct connections to God but the dreams and visions of the common people were delusions relegated to vulgar spirits, demons, and witches. Dreaming became a dangerous thing during the witchcraft persecutions; dreams were seen as a time when we could be opened up to unsavory influences and attacks, and when we ourselves might be out harming others and unable to offer any defense if accused of doing so. We see dreaming as a double edged sword, a weapon of the Church for control and an unsafe activity of those outside Church bounds. Dreaming slowly lost its sacredness entirely on the altar of rational thought and became nothing more than another aspect of the mind to be dissected. This desacralization of dreaming began the descent of the dream from something profound to something almost meaningless and difficult to interpret, an individual language that only the dreamer spoke, a puzzle to be solved. 

If we look at dreams and dreaming we might perhaps find that it is not dreams that have changed but only our own understanding of them. Our culture has trained us now to see dreams as trivial things, as the mind talking to itself and as the body's response to imbalance. Dreams can be a way for our mind to talk to itself and work out problems, of course, however dreams are complex and diverse and sometimes they are a way for our soul to connect or move outwards. Certainly not all dreams are journeys Elsewhere, but sleep is still the liminal gateway for our soul to travel out that it has always been. Dreams are still an opening for different spirits to communicate with us, a time when our minds are still and receptive in ways they often are not while we are awake. This idea of communication with spirits during dreams is very old and something we see in folklore with everything from ancestors to landspirits to the Good People to Gods. 

I have always personally believed in the reality of dreaming, and I think there is value in other people evaluating this concept more generally which is why I chose to write about it. Dreams are more than just stories our minds tell ourselves while we sleep, at least sometimes. Sometimes what we dream is as real as what we do in our waking life, and that matters because it means that we need to take dreaming a lot more seriously. It can be a gateway to Fairy, and other worlds besides, and what we do there can impact is here. We need to remember to protect ourselves, and that the same rules apply for safe travel in dreams as in meditations or spirit journeys. Because if dreams are real then we can be hurt in them, we can swear oaths in them, we can make mistakes in them that follow us back here; and we can earn blessings as well (its not all bad after all). 

Further Reading:
Lecouteux, C., (2003) Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: shapeshifters and astral doubles in the middle ages
Bitel, L., (1991) "In Visu Noctis": Dreams in European Hagiography and Histories 
Briggs, K., (1976) Dictionary of Fairies
Evans-Wentz (1911) Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries
Firth Green, R., (2016) Elf Queens and Holy Friars
Aislinge Oenguso http://iso.ucc.ie/Aislinge-oenguso/Aislinge-oenguso-text.html

*I'm not going to address here the various scientific attempts to explain these phenomena. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Aided Óenfir Aífe

Aided Óenfir Aífe 

Cía fochann araro marb Cú Chulainn a mac? Ní hansae. Luid Cú Chulainn do forcetul gaiscid la Scáthaig n-Úanaind ingin Airdgeme i l-Letha co ndergéni súithi cles lea & luid Aífe ingen Airdgeme cuici & ba torrach forácaib & asbert fria no bérad mac.
‘Bíd ind ordnasc n-órdae so acut’, ol sé, ‘corop coimse don mac. In tan bas coimse dó, táet dom chuindchidsea i n-Ére & nacham berad óenfer dia chonair & nacha sloinded do óenfiur & ná fémded comlann óenfir.’
Doluid in mac dia secht mblíadan do chuindchid a athar. Is and bátar Ulaid i n-óendáil oc Trácht Éise ara chiund. Co n-accatar in mac cucu íarsind fairci & luingine chrédumai fo suidiu & rámada dí-órdai ina láim. Carn cloch aici isin luing. Dobered cloich ina chrandtabaill & dosléiced táthbéim forsna héonu, co ngaibed na hairberta díb, ot é beóa, conda léiced úad isind áer doridisi. Imfuirmed a charpatchles eter a dí láim, conná tairthed súil. No glésed a guth dóib, conda foilged indara fecht. Dosnúisced in fecht n-aile.
‘Maith tra,’ ol Conchobar, ‘mairg thír i táet in gillae ucut’, ol sé. ‘Matis fir móra na hindsi asa táet donístis, conmeltis ar grian, in tan is mac bec dogni in airbert ucut. eirged nech ara chend. Nacha telged i tir eter'
'Cía regas ar a chend?'
'Cía-pad cía' ol Conchobar, 'acht Cobdere mac Echach?'
'Cía immaregad Condere?' ol cách.
"Ní hansea,' ol Conchobar, 'cid cíall ocus erlabrea immabera is Condere as chóir and.'
"Regadsa ar a chend.' ol Condere.
Luid Condere íarom & is and ro gab in mac tráig in tan sin. ‘Is lóor dothéig, a macáin,’ ol Condere, ‘co fessamar cid no théig & can do chenél.’
‘Ním sloindim do óenfiur,’ ol in gillae, ‘& ní imgabaim óenfer.’
‘Ní tergae i tír,’ ol Condere, ‘corot sloindi.’
‘Regad a leith dia tuidched,’ ol in gillae.
Imsoí ass in mac. Is and asbert Condere: ‘Tinta frim, a mo maic. At morgnímach. At fola ferdamnai. Ardán errad Ulad cucut. Ardotchobra Conchobar. Cairptini cleitini a clár clé, conid san erreda Ulad úargabas. Ardotchobra Conchobar dondigis. Clúas duit, dian tóe frim. Tinta co Conchobar, co mac níthach Nessa; co Sencha mac coscrach Oilella; co Cethirn mac fáebarderg Fintain, co tenid leónas ergala; co h-Aimirgin n-éices; co Cumscraid mórmuirnech. Mo chen, ardot-Conall-Cernach-cobra tar turtheda, ceóla, gáiri láthlond catha. Bad búadre brón la Blaí Briugaid béim sechai, cíaso láech. Dáig ní immairic ilar ruice. La so atberer. Atrachtsa fodén, Condere, co tulad co mmac argair curada. Acht bágus domsa' ol intí Condere, 'tuidecht ar chend in gillai cen ulcha cen caither, acht manip erlaithe di Ultaib.'
‘Is maith dondigis,’ ol in gillae. ‘Rotbíaso didiu t'acallam. Gléssiu gotha. Léicsiu úaim erchora cen imroll a cairpthinib. Comlaus cáinsreth saigthin ar cleitinib cíanaib cen ích n-errad n-aile. Bágsu ar mórgnímaib gaiscid nád ragbad nech forbais form. Fásaigseo let co hUltu in feraimsea for galaib óenfir nó for línaib fer for ndul. Soí ass doridisi’, ol in gillae, ‘air cía no beth nert céit let, nída túalaing mo ergairi.’
‘Maith,’ ol Condere, ‘táet nech aile íarom dot acallaim.’
Luid íarom Condere co h-Ultu & adfét in sin.
‘Níba fír,’ ol Conall Cernach, ‘enech Ulad do breith céin am beósa.’ Luidseom didiu do saigid in maic.
‘Is álaind do chluiche, a macáin,’ ol Conall.
‘Níba frit bas étchiu,’ ol in gillae.
Ro lá in gillae cloich ina thabaill. Dosléici isind áer .i. táthbéimm, co riacht a bressim & a torann ac techt súas co Conall. Foceird Conall tar a chend. Riasiu atracht, dobert in gillae scíathraig a scéith fora láma.
‘Nech aile friss!’ ol Conall.
Dorat tra gen forsin slúag fon indus sin. Boí Cú Chulainn immurgu oca chluichiu oc dul dochum in gillai, & lám Emire ingine Forgaill tara brágaid.
‘Ná téig sís!’ ol sí. ‘Mac duit fil tís. Ná fer fingail immot óenmac, co sechnam, a maic saigthig soailti. Ní soáig ná soairle coméirge frit mac mórgnímach mór ... n-esiut. Artai o ríag cnis fochlóc ót biliu, ba cotat fri Scáithchi scél. Mad Conlae céssad clár clé, comad fortamail taidbecht. Tinta frim! Cluinte mo chlois! Fó mo chosc! Bad Cú Chulainn cloadar! Atgénsa cid ainm asind ón, maso Conlae óenmac Aífe in mac fil tís,’ ol in ben.
Is and sin asbert Cú Chulainn: ‘Coisc, a ben! Ní cosc mná admoiniur mórgnímaib asa coscur glé. Ní gníther do banchobrae. Bam gnímbúadach. Buidig ruisc ruirech. Dé fola form chnis crú cuirp Conlai. Caín súgfet gaí in cleitine cain. Cid é no beth and, a ben,’ ol sé, ‘na ngénainnse ar inchaib Ulad.’
Is and sin luid sís fésin.
'Is álaind, a macáin, in cluiche dogní,’ ol sé.
‘Is étach for cluichesi cétamus,’ ol in mac bec, ‘nach táet dias úaib corom sloindisea dóib.’
‘In corob éicen mac blaicci im farradsa ón?’ ol Cú Chulainn. ‘Atbélaesiu immurgu mani sloindi.’
‘Bid fír,’ ol in gillae.
Atnaig in mac cuici. Immustúaircet. Nos mbeir in gillae maíl fair cosin chlaidiub .i. béim co fomus.
'Is co cend in cuitbuid' ol Cu Chulainn. 'Tiagam do imthrascrud didiu!'
‘Ní rous do chris,’ ol in mac. Ro gab in mac for dí chloich, co tarat Coin Culainn eter in dí choirthi fo thrí, & níro glúais in mac nechtar a dá chos dona coirthib, co ndechadar a thraigthi isna clochaib conici a dá n-adbrond. Atá slicht a dá chos and béos. Is de atá Tráig Éise la h-Ultu. Lotar didiu isin muir do imbádud, cora mbáid in mac fo dó.
Luid risin mac íarom asin uisciu, coro bréc cosin gaí bulga, ar níro múin Scáthach do duine ríam in gaisced sin acht do Chon Chulainn a óenur. Dacorustar don mac tríasind uisce, co mboí a inathar foa chossaib.
‘Is ed ón tra,’ ol sé, ‘náro múin Scáthach dom-sa! Mairg nom chréchtnaigis!’ ol in mac.
‘Is fír,’ ol Cú Chulainn. Gaibid in mac íarom eter a dí láim, & nos ucca co tall ass & na mbeir co tarlaic de ar bélaib Ulad.
‘Aso mo macsa dúib, a Ultu,’ ol sé.
‘Fé amai,’ ol Ulaid.
‘& is fír,’ ol in mac. ‘Dia mbeinnsea etraib co cend cóic mblíadan, no silsinnse firu in betha remib for cach leith & congébthe ríge co Róim. Inid ed so file and, inchoisc domsa na firu amrai fil isin bailiu, corom chelebra dóib.’
Dobeir íarom a dí láim im brágaid cach fir ar úair & celebraid dia athair & atbail fo chétóir. Ro lád tra a gáir gubai & a fert & a liae ocus co cend trí tráth nícon reilcthea loíg dia mbuaib la h-Ultu in diaid.


- Meyer, The Death of Conla. [from Yellow Book of Lecan, 214a] Ériu 1 (1904)


The Death Of Aife's Only Son

What was the cause of the death of Cú Chulainn's son? Not difficult. 
Cú Chulainn went for weapons instruction to Scáthaig the Foam-white daughter of Airdgeme in Letha to gain mastery of feats with her and he went to Aífe daughter of Airdgeme and he left her pregnant and said she would bear a son.
‘Take this thumb-ring of gold to hold', he said, ‘until it is fit for the boy. When it is fit, let him come to seek me in Ireland and not give way to a single man on the road and not declare himself to a single man and not refuse combat to a single man.’
 The son went one day seven years afterwards to seek his father. The men of Ulster were in a gathering at Trácht Éise. They saw a boy coming towards them on the ocean and a bronze boat under him and gold oars in his hands. A heap of stones was with him in the boat. He would put a stone in his staff-sling and make a powerful throw on the birds, with skill taking them down, and they alive, releasing them into the air afterwards. He performs his palate-feat between his two hands, without the eye catching it. Or he would perform his voice for them, and spring on them a second time. Then revived them the next time.
‘Good though,’ said Conchobar, ‘Woe to the land that the youth comes to’, he said. ‘If great men of his island come to us, they would grind us to gravel, when a little boy makes this effort there. Someone go to meet him. Let him go anyway to another in land.'
'Who should go meet him?'
'Who else' said Conchobar, 'but Condere son of Echach?'
'Why should Condere?' everyone said.
"Not difficult,' said Conchobar, 'If it is good sense and nobility that is with him then Condere should meet him there.'
"I will go meet him.' said Condere.
Condere went thereafter and met with the boy there on the shore. ‘That is sufficient to come, oh little lad,’ said Condere, ‘without telling us why you are coming and who your nation is.’
‘I do not declare myself to one man,’ said the youth, ‘and I don't give way to one man.’
‘You won't go to the land,’ said Condere, ‘without declaring yourself.’ 
‘I will go the direction I intend,’ said the youth.
The boy turned away. Then Condere spoke: ‘Turn to me, oh my lad. Stay this great activity. Stay this manly feud. Pride of the Ulsetrmen equips you. Conchobar will protect you. A little chariot, light javelins, your leftside covered, with this may the Ulad outfit you. Conchobar will protect your meeting. Listen to you, true silence against me. Turn to Conchobar, warlike son of Nessa; of Sencha boastful son of Oilella; of Cethirn very-keen son of Fintain, of fiery wounding battle; of Aimirgin the wise; of Cumscraid of the great armies. My leader, who is guarded by Conall Cernach, a warrior's musical cry in battles. It would be a distress and confusion to break legal guesting with violence, among warriors. Because of a meeting of abundance of reproach. With this speech, he himself rises, Condere, with consent to the boy a warrior's prohibition. Therefore it is contentious for me' said he, Condere, 'meeting the arrival of a lad without a beard, without body-hair, but that is why there are not two Ulstermen.'
‘You have met me well,’ said the lad. ‘You shall have your answer. Bright spears. A league's charge before me without a mistake to his chariot. An agreed order of soldiers shooting with little spears far away without another leader equipping them. Contentious battle without great execution of weapons and without resistence to me. I will lay waste to Ulster whether I am to fight in single combat or against many men. I am away out of it again’, said the youth, ‘For even with powerful force assembled with you, I am not able to be prohibited.’
‘Fine,’ said Condere, ‘Someone else may go speak with him.’
 Condere went then to the Ulstermen and told them.
‘Not true,’ said Conall Cernach, ‘Ulster's honor will not be taken while I am alive.’
Then he went to the boy.
‘Your playing is pretty, oh little boy,’ said Conall.
‘Not against you will it be ugly,’ said the lad.
The lad took a stone and put it in his sling. He cast in the air, that is with his sling-stick, so that it's noise and it's thunder going up reached to Conall. He put Conall back on his head. Before he rose, the lad placed the shieldstrap of his shield on his arms.
‘Another person against him!’ said Conall.
He went this way mocking the host that was there. Cú Chulainn was there at the time going towards the lad, and Emire daughter of Forgaill's arm over his neck.
‘Do not go down!’ she said. ‘A son to you is he. Do not commit parricide on your only son, avoid it, your aggressive son's life. It is not a fair fight and it is not wise to rise against your son. Turn away from hard punishing judgments, from harsh gossiping against you. If Conlae suffers a bad defense, your protecting superior skill annuls it. Turn to me! Hear my voice! Good are my words! Let Cú Chulainn hear! I know what name he will declare, if he is Conlae only son of Aífe the son of yours,’ said his wife.
Then Cú Chulainn said: ‘Prevent, oh woman! No woman's prevention invokes great deeds in their shining correction. No deeds are in a woman's conversation. I shall have glorious deeds. Satisfying a king's eye. If the blood on me will be from the chest wound of Conlai's body. Beautiful a loud-rushing spear, the little spear beautiful. If it is he who is there, oh woman,’ he said, ‘I will kill him for the honor of Ulster.’
And he went down there.
'It is pretty, oh little boy, the play you make,’ he said.
‘There is jealousy on you for my play indeed,’ said the small boy, ‘that a pair of you did not come down so that I could declare myself to you.’
‘Would it have been a necessity to have a little boy along with this?’ said Cú Chulainn. ‘Indeed, you shall die unless you declare yourself.’
‘Let it be true,’ said the lad. 
The boy came towards him. They engaged each other. The lad struck a renowned cropping feat with his sword that is cutting away his hair.
'The mockery is on my head' said Cu Chulainn. 'Let us go wrestle together!'
‘I do not reach your chest,’ said the boy. The boy got on two stones, pushing Cu Culainn between the two stones three times, and without the boy moving his feet so that his two feet were in the stones up to his ankles. The track of his two feet is there and remains. This is the Tráig Éise of Ulster. They went then to the ocean to submerge each other, with the boy twice submerging him. 
Then he went after the boy in the water, until with deception the gaí bulga was used, because no person had been taught that weapon by Scáthach but Cu Chulainn alone. He shot it at the boy through the water, so that his entrails were at his feet.
‘It is that indeed,’ he said, ‘this Scáthach did not teach me! Woe that you have wounded me!’ said the boy.
‘It is true,’ said Cú Chulainn. He took the boy then in his two arms, and carried him over there and carried him before the men of Ulster.
‘Here is my son to you, oh Ulstermen,’ he said.
‘Woe and alas,’ said the Ulstermen.
‘And it is true,’ said the boy. ‘If I had been among you for five years, I would vanquish the men of the world before you on every side and you would have kingship to Rome. Since it is this here, show to me the wonderful men that are here, that I may say farewell to them.’
He placed thereafter his two hands around the necks of every man in turn and said farewell to his father and died then immediately. Then the warriors made his mourning cry and his burial mound and his stone and from the start to end of three days a calf was not near their cows in Ulster.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cursework and 'Real' Witches


There's a new round of blogs and online commentary about how 'real witches don't hex' going around, spurred it appears by the recent call to hex a public figure and the support and backlash that garnered. The public call for mass hexwork got a lot of attention and the response across social media has been strong, not only about the subject of the hex and whether it's appropriate to hex a political leader, but whether cursework and hexing in general are acceptable to do. Not at all surprisingly there has been a strong thread of disapproval towards the practice and also a very public outcry proclaiming that 'real'* witches don't hex. Period. The end. A variety of arguments are put forth for why 'real' witches don't use baneful magic but generally it boils down to; 1) it's naughty and naughty magic only really hurts the person casting it; 2) hexes don't work anyway; or 3) a 'real' witch is wise enough to know better than to do naughty magic, because vague reasons. 
So let's take a look at this.  
 
I'm not going to speak to whether or not I'm real. I mean I do think a lot which I'm given to understand is one criteria of reality, but for all any of us know we could be a dream within a dream or characters in a story. So let's table the question of reality. I am sure that I'm a witch though, and I do hex. I've talked about it publicly before and I'm not ashamed of it; I don't think it should be done if you aren't willing to own up to doing it. So real or not real, I'm a witch and I hex. I guess that entitles me to an opinion on the subject. I've written about hexing before here and here because its a subject that I feel strongly about. I am not, however, out to convince anyone that they should or should not do it. I believe that it is up to each individual to decide for themselves whether cursework is something they are comfortable doing. What I do want though is to work towards removing the stigma around it that says anyone who hexes is a terrible, morally corrupt person; this is no more or less true than saying a member of the military or a martial artist is inherently violent and dangerous just because they have the skill set to cause harm and an ability to use it if necessary.  


Cursework is a specialty. It requires study just as much as healing or prophecy magic does, and I'd argue that to do it well you have to make it your focus, at least for a time. It isn't something you play with. It has its own rhythms and rules, its own flow and form. It's not for everyone, and not every witch needs to do it, just like anything else. Some people are vegetarians and some are omnivores; some are pacifists and some are fighters; some let energy work itself out and some hex. Different witches have different ethical approaches and beliefs that shape the acceptability of cursework and any kind of magic that  impacts other people's free will. For some people it will always be out of bounds and for others it will be acceptable within certain contexts. I certainly don't know anyone who does serious hexwork who takes it lightly or sees it as a game, for what that's worth. Rather the other people I know who do it approach it very soberly, and often as a last resort when other options have been exhausted. 


Hexing is not inherently dangerous and it isn't a practice that dooms the practitioner to suffer terrible consequences. It is no more or less dangerous to the person doing it than healing is, and just like healing the risk only comes in if the person makes a mistake, which can happen just as easily with blessing magic as baneful magic. I've been at this a long time and I've done more than one hex in my time - and done them knowing exactly what I'm doing and how to do it - and I have never once experienced any negative repercussions on myself, nor has my magic failed to achieve my goal, although it may work faster or slower or stronger than I intended which is exactly why it has to be done with care. This narrative that anyone who hexes will be awash in bad energy, usually described as karma but in the Western sense of instant consequences, is not something I have ever personally seen as true. And I say that as someone who has been practicing witchcraft since the early '90's and admits to hexing, binding, and banishing when necessary. Yes everything we do ultimately affects us but it is far more nuanced and subtle than do good = get equivalent good, do bad = get equivalent bad. And as I like to remind people good and bad are matters of perspective and we must always be careful in judging what is which, especially when it comes to our own actions. 

I've also seen a lot of anti-hex arguments that say that positive magic works but negative does not. By this logic healing spells work, but curses do not, because somehow what helps us and is judged good (remember what I said about judging) is effective but what is judged bad or harmful is seen as impossible or ineffective. It can't be both. Either they both work or neither does. We can't acknowledge the power of one and deny the power of the other, whether or not we ourselves participate in it. To me this just smacks of a way to reassure one's self that good magic works but naughty magic doesn't, as if the Universe only allowed goodness. I think it should be pretty self evident that nothing works that way. I'd also point out as an aside that no type of magic is any more or less addictive than any other, as that has also been mentioned as a reason not to hex. absolute power may corrupt absolutely but this isn't some fictional Dark Side of the Force we're talking about here, where even one slip into practicing it will mean your light saber turning red forever. This is reality, where people are nuanced and complicated and can be good people with functional ethics who still believe its okay to bind a stalker or punish a rapist using magic without plunging into uncontrolled all-Evil-all-the-time-ness.





The third main argument I've seen is that a 'real' witch is wise enough to know better than to hex or curse. Um, in all seriousness why? What exactly is so wrong in hexing or cursing that being 'real' enlightens you so much that you won't do it? Ignoring for a moment the enormous implied insult here that everyone who does hex is not only not a real witch but also unwise or uneducated I genuinely don't understand this argument. I'm impeding someone else's free will. Okay. I'm also impeding their free will when I get a restraining order or use mace to defend myself from a mugger, but I'm going to do both of those things if necessary too, and I don't see how defending myself against someone else's aggression isn't the best course. I suspect this ties back into the assumption that hexing is just done to be mean, but let me tell you something here, the hexing that I've done that falls into the bounds of cursework has usually** been done because I had exhausted all my other options and I was desperate. I or people I cared about were usually in physical danger or other serious situations were occurring that needed an immediate response but for which I had no options.

If you want to argue against hexing then argue against it from a moral standpoint making it clear that you are discussing your own morals or explain your own reasoning for not doing it, but don't use scare tactics that make the practice seem like magical Russian roulette. It isn't. If done with skill and knowledge hexing and cursing are powerful tools and can be useful to achieving goals that otherwise may not be achievable, especially relating to justice and some types of protection. I'm not saying it can't be misused just like anything else, of course, but it can and often is done well and safely for the practitioner. And effectively. And keep in mind that anything is judged good or bad purely based on our own perspective. There's nothing wrong with choosing not to hex because it goes against your own morals or makes you uncomfortable. That's fine. But there's also nothing wrong with deciding that you are morally comfortable with hexing.

 So can we please stop with this divisive 'real witches don't hex' stuff? Yes some 'real' witches do. And some don't. There is no one single type of witchcraft, no single ethic that unites all witches, no agreed on witchcraft code that defines who and what witches are based on what magic they do. What makes a person a real witch isn't whether or not they adhere to one particular moral viewpoint. And cursing and hexing whether anyone likes it or not are deeply ingrained in historic and traditional witchcraft, and in some forms of modern witchcraft as well. If your particular form or tradition of witchcraft doesn't do cursework, that's okay. Don't do it. But that doesn't give you or anyone else the right to dictate what other witches or witchcraft traditions, or other types of pagans who practice magic for that matter, can and cannot do, or should or should not do. Let us stop with the logical fallacies, the 'no true Scotsman' and the appeals to authority and tradition, that are being used to justify condemning anyone who does things differently or who we disagree with. Witchcraft is dazzlingly diverse in its variety and scope of practice. Let's try celebrating that, even when we don't agree with what other people do in their personal traditional magic, rather than condemning and trying to limit other people to conform to our own expectations and comfort zone. 


I am a witch. I hex. And I'm proud of the knowledge and skill it takes to do that well.



*I'm putting real in quotes here to convey sarcasm. I know that doesn't read well online but I can't type real witch in any seriousness.

**usually