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Monday, April 30, 2012

Bealtaine - Blessing the Summer In

I wrote an essay about Bealtaine that is currently posted on  Excerpt:
To the pagan Celts, Bealtine (pronounced roughly Ball-tinn-eh) , often called Beltane by modern pagans, was one of the most sacred and  important holidays of the year and even up until recently the people of Ireland and Scotland practiced Beltane celebrations. Also called Bealltainn in Scotland and Bealtaine or Bealtine in Ireland, this holiday is generally celebrated on May first and might also be called May Day, although some people believe in celebrating it based on environmental signs, such as the blooming of the Hawthorn. It is uncertain what the name Beltane means; some people theorize that it translates to “fires of Bel” while others favor the meaning “blessing fires”.

Read the entire essay here:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

thoughts on the Ogham Tract

     The Ogham Tract is one of the most interesting and useful texts to study for those interested in Irish mythology and divination. Within the text the mythological origins of Ogham are outlined and several different types of Ogham are discussed, although only the Tree Ogham and Word Oghams are gone into with any depth. The sections detailing these two types of Ogham are invaluable, however, for those who seek to use the Ogham for divination since they attach significant meaning to each letter, and these meanings can be used as the basis for a system of symbolism.
     The first section looks at the mythological history of the Ogham, using the typical question and answer style so often seen in Irish texts. The first question asks about the place, time, inventor and cause of the creation of the Ogham and the answer, while apocryphal, are illuminating. We learn that the Ogham was created in Ireland during the time that Bres ruled the Tuatha de Danann, before mortals came to Ireland, and that it was invented by the god Ogma to prove his inventiveness and to give the educated something the uneducated didn’t have. This tells us not only that the Ogham is believed to have divine origins, but also that it is believed to have been created as something to be reserved for a select few. The second questions asked relate to why it is called Ogham, who are the “father” and “mother” of the Ogham, what was first written in it and why “b” is the primary letter. The name is explained as a play on words from og-uaim meaning perfect alliteration and is an allusion to the poets’ art and possibly the very mnemonics that are used to remember the meanings of each letter in each type of Ogham. The father of Ogham is, of course, Ogma, and the mother is said to be his hand or blade; this is a beautiful description of the balanced act of creation involving both passive design and active carving.  The final answer contains another fascinating bit of mythology, that is that the first thing written was “b” and that it was written as a warning to the god Lugh that his wife was about to be kidnapped to Faery. Interestingly it is said that “b”, which in tree Ogham is associated with birch, was written seven times on a switch of birch; this not only reinforces the connection between the letter and the tree but also offers a possible magic charm to be used.
     After this section the divisions of Ogham are discussed, with the idea of dividing the Ogham into four groups of five. It also mentioned that they can be separated into three groups of eight based on the Tree Ogham, divided by chieftain  trees, peasant trees, and shrub trees. A second origin of Ogham is mentioned, the school of Fenius, which adds three dipthongs to the twenty consonants and vowels. Then a brief outline of the Tree Ogham is given, followed by the more in-depth description of the Tree and Word Oghams, and then very brief descriptions of many other types of Ogham.
     By studying the trees associated with each letter and then the descriptions given for each correspondence to the Word Ogham a clear pattern of symbols can be developed for use in divination. Using the Ogham for divination can be effective and useful if the symbolism of each letter is fully understood. Many people err in only looking to the Tree Ogham for meaning when divining with the letters, when in fact the other types of Ogham reinforce and add detail and depth of meaning providing clearer readings. Ogham can easily be used as the primary means of divination for both personal daily use and at ritual, but it is important to understand the meanings of each letter as fully as possible. Interestingly the “Boy Ogham” is actually a method of divination in and of itself that uses the mother’s name written in Ogham to predict the gender of her unborn child by dividing the name at a certain point, which is unfortunately not specified in the text.
     The Ogham Tract may at first seem of interest only to those seeking to learn about divination since that is what Ogham is most known for these days, yet the tract contains valuable mythology as well. Studying this text is useful to anyone because it expands our knowledge of Irish mythology with small details and also highlights the exclusive place of Ogham literacy when the Tract was written. And of course it is invaluable for those seeking to use the Ogham for divination as well. No matter what your focus is, if you are interested in studying the Ogham, this text is useful and should be studied.

 further reading on the Ogham:
 Ogam: Weaving Words of Wisdom by Erynn Rowan Laurie
 Ogam: the Celtic Oracle of the Trees by Paul Rhys Montfort
 Ogham, the Secret Language of the Druids by  Robert Ellison
 Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham by Steven Blamires
  The Book of Ogham by Edred Thorson

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Gaelic Heathenry

   So what exactly do I mean when I say that I'm a Gaelic Heathen? Well, basically it means that I follow a syncretic Irish polytheist and Norse polytheist recon approach to my spirituality. My approach was born out of the gradual realization that, firstly, the two cultures have a great deal in common, and secondly that there is historical precedent for the blending and melding of Norse and Celtic tradition. The two cultures did historically interact and influence each other; the Norse invaded and settled parts of Ireland and the Irish were in Iceland. I was also in a situation where I had strong ties to both Irish and Norse spirituality, neither of which could easily be put aside. Still, I might never have reached the point I am now if not for a friend who is a Gaelic Heathen and allowed me to see the possibilities and break out of my rigid separation of the two and let go of my feelings of conflict.
    Just to clarify up front, syncretic practice is not the same as eclectic. Syncretic is the fusion or reconciliation of two different systems of belief into a single system, often heterogeneous, while eclectic is selecting and using a variety of elements from many different sources (Syncretic, 2012; Eclectic, 2012). Gaelic Heathenry is the syncretic union of Celtic and Norse polytheism, whereas eclectic practice would blend in anything and everything that might appeal to me. In many ways syncretic approaches to overlapping cultures such as these are inevitable; when I'm feeling brave enough I may start researching British material where Anglo-Saxon and Celtic syncretism has a long history.
   Syncretic practice is, in many ways, new territory for me and I am only slowly feeling my way into it, after years of very rigidly separated practice. I tend to divide the holy days of the year between the Irish and Norse, with the Fire festivals celebrated in an Irish manner and the equinoxes and solstices given to the Norse. I have not, so far, made any attempt to unify the two into a single ritual as I do feel that honoring the gods is best done separately, although I have a healing altar that I use for a variety of healing work that is mixed, with Eir beside Brighid and Airmed next to the Matronaes. The ritual structure itself is different between the two, although not radically so; both involve making offerings, for example, but the Norse faining tends to be more formally structured and patterned, while the Irish ritual has a more organic feel to it. In a faining I would follow the normative modern structure: gathering, hallowing, invoking the land vaettir, ancestors, and gods, describing the rite, passing the horn, making the offering, closing ritual. In the Irish I would begin by singing or reciting a poem for the occassion, then invoke the ancestors, daoine sidhe, and gods, discuss the rite and perhaps say a prayer of blessing, make the offering, consult a method of divination to see if the offering was accepted, close the ritual and then feast. I have two separate altars at home, one for the Norse gods I honor and another for the Irish. I read and study material from both cultures. I have found the worldview and values very similar; both believe in multiple Otherworlds, nine in the Norse and innumerable in the Irish, and these views are perfectly compatible. Both consist of Gods that represent civilization and Order that are at odds with, but also intermarried with, primordial beings of entropy and chaos. The Norse have a complex creation myth and eschatology story, but the Celts have none, so there is little conflict there. Both share similar views on honor, hospitality, courage, right action, and respect. Both also have similar views on the afterlife, in that the soul is immortal and may be reborn (the Norse see this as occuring within the family line) or may go to a variety of other places, although the Norse views on the nature of the soul are slightly different, seeing it as being divided into distinct parts. Again though the slight differences are easily reconciled. I have previously blogged about the similarities in oracular practices as well as Otherworldly beings and in these two areas I take a very blended approach, particularly in the way I relate to the daoine sidhe or vaettir. Honoring my ancestors is the same in both practices.
   On a daily basis I embrace both. I wake up and great the day with Sigdrifa's Prayer before making a small offering at my shrine and saying a prayer for Imbas. I study both Runes and Ogham. Throughout the day I may speak to Odin as easily as Macha, and I pour out a little bit of coffee for my ancestors as I place some food out for the Spirits - whether I call them daoine sidhe or vaettir doesn't matter. In practice some aspects are personal, of course, in which deity I may pray to or honor as there is no set pantheon, but I have found there is no conflict in calling on Odin for inspiration and Brighid for healing, Nuada for strength during suffering and hailing Thor when the thunder rolls, or calling on Macha for protection and Freya for guidance in seidhr work. And then of course there are the deities that are both Norse and Celtic, like Arto and the Matronaes.
   I am an American, part of the Celtic diaspora, but it goes without saying - I hope - that my views and approaches are shaped by being where I am and that they in turn shape my spirituality. While culture and cultural preservation are important to me, my experience of Irish, or German for that matter, culture is the experience of a second and third generation immigrant and I do not pretend that it is the same as if I lived in Ireland, or Germany. However it would be impossible to remove the influence that these cultures play in my life, as it is all part of who I am, from the languages to the music, from the food to the folklore. The gods of the Irish and Norse are the ones who call me most strongly and the worldview and beliefs are the ones that make the most sense; I also feel that honoring these cultures connects me to my ancestors in a deeper way.
  Another key part of my approach to spirituality is reconstruction. I have found nothing as effective, personally, for deepening my connection to the Gods, ancestors, and spirits of the Otherworld than using a reconstructionist approach. I research and piece together the ancient pagan beliefs and look with a pagan eye at the modern cultural practices to form a picture of what I think that paganism would have looked like had it never stopped being practiced. I have no interest in recreating the past or in imitating a distant time period, but I truly connect to the idea of bringing the old ways forward, of using the resources at hand - archaeology, anthropology, mythology, folklore - to understand what was done and how as well as what the beliefs were and then finding ways to revitalize and modernize them. Or in the case of more recent folk beliefs, to envision the pagan applications. It's like fitting together a fascinating puzzle that creates a picture of what might have been had polytheism continued uninterrupted. Reconstruction has provided me with a wide array of daily and seasonal practices, of oracular practices, of beliefs, and has allowed me to connect to the gods in profound and meaningful ways.
  Much of what I study involves looking at separate sources, a wide variety of both Celtic, Irish, and Norse material that only occasionally overlaps. The main sources that I use to understand how the cultures interacted and effected each other involve looking at Celtic areas with strong Norse influence that have been preserved, including the Orkney Islands and some Scottish material, such as McNeill's Silver Bough series. Although my own focus is Irish I find the Scottish and Orkney material easier to access and it provides a useful template to understand the pattern of cultural interaction. I have also found books like Lady with a Mead Cup, Beyond Celts, Germans, and Scythians, and In Search of the Indo-Europeans helpful in understanding the ancient roots that the two cultures share.
   I also focus on the Viking presence in Ireland. Viking influence in Ireland began around 800 CE and by 950 CE there were established Viking settlements in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Wexford (Viking Answer Lady, 2012). For most of this period the Viking invaders and settlers were still pagan, although the Irish at this point had converted to Christianity. There is significant archaeological evidence of the Norse presence in Ireland during this period, including burials (Fischer, 2012). Evidence also indicates that the Norse settlers assimilated to life in Ireland by adopting the lifestyles of the Irish (Preet, 2010). There is some evidence that surviving Irish customs surrounding midwinter are Norse in origin, the result of Irish assimilation of practices brought over by Norse settlers (Preet, 2010). Certainly such cultural "sharing" is seen in Scotland where the Norse also raided and settled, so it's reasonable to assume that the same would occur in Ireland. Similarly, Iceland shows Irish influences with many examples of Irish names and nicknames recorded; equally influential   many of the slaves were Irish and were the mothers of later generations (Clements, 2005).
     Interestingly I found out that my grandfather's surname, McSorley, meant "son of the summer sailor" and was a reference to the Norse presence in Celtic lands; in fact the name itself in Gaelic, Somhairle, is the Gaelicized version of the Norse word Sumarlithr "summer warrior or sailor" ( Although listed as a Scottish name, McSorley is actually both Scottish and Irish; my grandfather was from a section of the McSorley's in Cork, not the Dalriada Scotland branch. I found this information very serendipitous given my religious focus. 
   For me Gaelic Heathenry makes sense, but it is also a continuously evolving process. I am only slowly getting comfortable looking at the two cultures holistically and using the knowledge and material from one to fill in gaps in the other. It certainly helps that my main focuses - the spirits of the Otherworld and magical practices often termed "witchcraft" - are very similar between the two cultures and provide a sense of continuity for me in actual practice. Of course being a witch in either Norse or Irish culture (or modern recon) is not without contraversy, but that might be an entirely separate blog topic. In actual practice I have found that my role as Druid within Irish polytheism and my role of Gythia in my kindred are simply two names for the same function, which also helps. For many people one culture or the other is what calles them, but for me giving up either one would mean giving up a part of myself. In that sense Gaelic Heathenry is, ultimately, where I belong becuase it allows me to be fully myself.

Further reading:

Viking Answer Lady (2012). Vikings in Ireland
Fischer, L., (2012). Evidence of Vikings by County
Preet, E., (2010) Slainte! Ireland's Viking Heritage
Clements, J., (2005) The Vikings
Syncretic (2012) Free Dictionary
Eclectic (2012) Free Dictionary

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nuada Airgetlamh

 Nuada was the king of the Tuatha de Danann when they first came to Ireland; in the Lebor Gabala Erenn it is said that he ruled for 7 years before the Tuatha De came to Ireland, was displaced when he lost an arm in battle, and then ruled a further 20 years after being healed (Macalister, 1941). Nuada was the son of Echtach, and had four sons Tadg, Caither, Cucharn, and Etaram the poet, as well as a daughter Echtge; no mother is mentioned (Gray, 1983). He is said in some sources to be married to Macha, one of the tre Morrignae, and he possessed one of the four treasures brought to Ireland by the Tuatha de, a sword which once unsheathed no enemy could escape and no wound from it could be healed (Berresford Ellis, 1987, O'hOgain, 2006; Jones, 2012). O'hOgain suggests that his name may mean "catcher" and theorizes that Nuada is the same deity as Nechtan and Elcmar (O'hOgain, 2006). He suggests this based on another name for Nuada being Nuada Necht, which O'hOgain believes is the earlier form of Nechtan; by this association Nuada would have been the original owner of Brugh na Boyne and would also possess the source of the Boyne, the well of Nechtan. Although difficult to prove with certainty this would reflect the strong connection to water seen in the related British deity, Nodens*. Other sources also suggest Nuada being the same deity as Nechtan and Elcmar, making him the husband of Boand who is cuckolded by the Dagda and then tricked out of possession of the Brugh na Boyne by Boand and Dagda's son from the affair, Angus (Monaghan, 2004). Based on this idea it would appear that after losing the Brugh to Angus Nuada moved to Sidhe Chleitigh, although alternate stories later claim his home to be sidhe Almhu or Slievenamon (Green, 1992; Monaghan, 2004; O'hOgain, 2006).
    Nuada's most well known epithet is Airgetlamh,  silver hand or arm. His name also appears as Nuadha, Nuadae, Nuadai, and Nuodai, with alternate spellings of his epithet as Aircetlaum (Gray, 1983). In the story of the Cath Maige Tuired Nuada was said to have lost his arm in battle, after which Dian Cecht, with the help of the smith Credne, fashioned him a new arm of silver that looked and moved just as a real arm would (Macalister, 1941).  According to a note by Gray in the Index to Persons of the Cath Maige Tuired there is a story where Nuada's severed arm is carried off after the battle by a hawk (Gray, 1983). Because of this disfigurement Nuada was forced to forfiet his kingship, for the law of the Tuatha de stated that only an unblemished king could rule (Monaghan, 2004; Macalister, 1941). O'hOgain suggests, in his book The Lore of Ireland, that the original story of the loss of Nuada's arm may have actually involved an accident with his own sword, or even an intentional sacrifice, and that there may have been some connection to healing waters or even that his lost arm may have been symbolic of a river (O'hOgain, 2006). During the medieval period the story was expanded to include more details; it was his right arm that was lost in battle with the Fir Bolg warrior Streang (O'hOgain, 2006; Gray, 1983). Nuada was carried from the field only to return the next day with the request that Streang tie his own right arm to ensure fair combat - when Streang refused the other Tuatha de Danann offered a province of land to keep Nuada from risking his life in an unequal fight (Gray, 1983; O'hOgain, 2006). At this point Bres became king, but after 7 years Dian Cecht fashioned the silver arm, then his son Miach, possibly along with Ormiach, replaced it with an arm of flesh and Nuada took back the kingship beginning the secong battle of Maige Tuired (Macalister, 1941; Monaghan, 2004; O'hOgain, 2006). During the second battle Nuada gives the kingship to Lugh, who organizes the battle and fights the fearsome Fomorian Balor, who is Lugh's grandfather (Green, 1992). By some accounts Nuada ruled for 20 years after being healed, while others state that he and Macha died together in the second battle of Maige Tuired at the hand of Balar the Fomorian king (Gray, 1983; Macalister, 1941).
   Nuada is a complex deity who can be seen as a god of battle, war, and also justice (Gray, 1983). Some sources also connect him to hunting (Jones, 2012). If weight is given to the parellels between Nuada and Nodens* and to the possible connections to Nechtan and Elcmar then he could also be seen as a god of healing and of the water, particularly rivers. The sword would be one of his symbols, as he possessed the sword that was one of the four treasures, and hawks may be associated with him. I personally have experienced the hawk as a symbol and messenger of Nuada, long before finding out the version of the story that connected him to the bird through the loss of his arm. Dogs and salmon/trout may also be associated with him, again if the link with Nodens and the Boyne is accepted. As Nechtan he would be connected to salmon through the salmon of knowledge that lived at the source of the river Boyne. Appropriate offerings would seem to be fish, and I have had sucess offering beer and Guiness.
     Green suggests that Nuada's name may mean "cloud-maker" and suggests that his counterparts in other cultures include Nodens, Nudd/Ludd, and possibly the Germanic Tyr (Green, 1992). The arguments put forth to connect the deities etymoligically are reasonably sound, relying on the shared reconstructed Indo-European roots of 'noudont' or 'noudent' which means "to catch" and proto-Indo-European root 'neu-d' which means "to aquire" or "to utilize" (Nodens, 2012). However as with anything involving reconstructed language it is still only theoretical. There also seems to be a fairly strong mythological connection between these deities, particularly around the loss of an arm and replacement of the limb with one of silver. As I have reasearched this I have decided for myself that I am comfortable with O'hOgain's logic in connecting Nuada with Nechtan and Elcmar, and also the likely pan-Celtic parellels between Nuada and Nodens, Nudd/Ludd, and Noadatus. I am least comfortable with the connection to the Germanic god Tyr, although I can see the argument for an ancient root deity shared in common. Readers are welcome to draw their own conclusions.
    *More on Nodens – also known in Wales as Nudd, or Llud Llaw Eirent (Llud the silver handed), sometimes equated to the Irish Nuada, and on the continent as Noadatus. Possibly a pan-Celtic deity synchronized with Mars, sometimes Silvanus, and in one case Neptune; his name may mean “Water Maker” or “Spirit of Water”, although it is equally likely to mean "he who catches" (Evans, 2011; Jones, 2012). A god of healing who had a shrine in Gloucestershire where votive offerings were made of bronze objects representing the area of the body the person needed to be healed, particularly limbs and eyes (Green, 1992). He is especially associated with amputees because he was believed to have lost an arm in battle, which was later replaced with a silver one, hence the epithet “silver hand”. His companion is a dog who can heal wounds by licking them; besides dogs, he is particularly associated with salmon and trout which may make good offerings to him (Evans, 2011).

Berresford Ellis, P., (1987). Dictionary of Irish Mythology
Green, M., (1992) Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend
Monaghan, P., (2004) Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore
O'hOgain (2006) the Lore of Ireland
Macalister, R., (1941) Lebor Gabala Erenn
Gray, E., (1983) Cath Maige Tuired
Evans, D., (2011)
Jones, M., (2012). Nodens
Nodens (2012). Websters Online Dictionary.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Flidais Foltchaoin

    Flidais is one of the more enigmatic and intriguing of the Irish deities. References to her in mythology are few and lack detail, yet there seems to be something deep and compelling about her. There is some debate about whether she is a historic deity or a literary creation of the later period, although it may be that her shifting charcter reflects euhumerization of the goddess into a human literary character, rather than a purely literary creation.
     Her name may mean "wet one" and she is especially associated with milk and milking; her epithet is foltchaoin "soft haired" (O'hOgain, 2006). Her husband was Adammair in one source and her son Nia Segamain (Leahy, 1906). In the Lebor Gabala Erenn her children are listed as Arden, Be Chuille, Dinand, and Be Teite and the Metrical Dindeshenchas list her as the mother of Fand (Macalister, 1941; Gwynne, 1906). In the Driving of the Cattle of Flidais she appears as a mortal character, the lover of Fergus mac Rog and wife of Ailill Finn (Leabor na h-Uidre, nd).
    In the Lebor Gabala Erenn Flidais is said to be the owner of magical cattle, and two of her children, Be Chuille and Dinand, are referred to as "she-farmers" connecting them to the produce of the earth, with another, Nia Segamain, mentioned in relation to her cattle (Macalister, 1941; Leahy, 1906). She was said to also have a herd of deer that gave milk like cows, and her herd was made up of both deer and cows (Keating, 1857). Monaghan suggests that her name means "doe" and sees parallels between Flidias and continental goddesses like Arto, Artemis, and Diana (Monaghan, 2004). She is associated with both domestic cattle and deer, and all animals are said to be her "cattle" (O hOgain, 2006). During the Tain Bo Cuiligne she supplied milk from her herd once a week that fed the entire army of Connacht, and in the Driving of the Herd of Flidais she was said to have one cow that could feed 300 men from one milking (Leabar na h-Uidre, nd). In this story as well we learn of Flidais's sexual prowess as she alone could satisfy her lover Fergus; without her it would take 7 women to do the same (O'hOgain, 2006).
     In the Banshenchus she is also connected to negative aspects, specifically fighting and destruction of men. It says: "Flidais....Though slender she destroyed young men. She decreed hard close fighting." (Banshenchus, nd). Although this is the only such reference, in the Driving of the Herd of Flidais she is the source of the conflict so perhaps this reflects and aspect of her that can incite violence.
     Modern Celtic pagans often associate Flidais with the woodlands and with wild animals, although in mythology she is equally connected to domestic animals. Deer and cattle are her special animals in mythology and could be used to represent her; offerings of milk would seem to be appropriate. Her nature in mythology seems to be both motherly, with her many children and connection to milk and milking, and also sensual in her role as the lover of Fergus. She also is clearly a deity of abundance and sustinence, who provides for all who rely on her. She has strong associations to sexuality that give an added depth to her nature; she is both domestic and wild, maternal and sexual.
    There is at least one reference to Flidais as a healer; in the Driving of the Herd of Flidais it is said that she tended to and healed the men wounded in battle (Leabhar na h-Uidre, nd). Interestingly this may relate to a more modern folk charm against posion that calls on "Fleithas", a name similar to the modern Irish for Flidias - Fliodhais. This charm refers to the hounds of Fliethas, as well as the three daughters of Fleithas (Wilde, 1991). These are possibly connections to the Irish goddess Flidais and certianly the charm can easily be modified to call on her. Below I am including the version I use from Lady Wilde's book Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions with the possible modifications in paranthesis.

A Very Ancient Charm Against Wounds or Poisons:
             “The poison of a serpent, the venom of the dog,
               The sharpness of spear, does not do well in man.
               The blood of one dog, the blood of many dogs,
               The blood of the hound of Fliethas (Flidais)– these I invoke.
It is not a wart to which my spittle is applied.
I strike disease; I strike wounds.
I strike the disease of the dog that bites,
Of the thorn that wounds
Of the iron that strikes.
I invoke the three daughters of Fleithas (Flidais)
Against the serpent
Benediction on this body to be healed;
Benediction on the spittle;
Benediction on him who casts out disease.”


Keating, G., (1857)  Foras Feasa ar Éirinn
Leabhar na h-Uidre (nd) Retrieved from
O'hOgain, (2006) The Lore of Ireland
MacAlister. R. (1941) Lebor Gabala Erenn
 Leahy, A., (1906), Heroic Romances of Ireland
Gwynne E., (1906), The Metrical Dindshenchas
Monaghan (2004). Encyclopedia of Celtic Myth and Folklore
Wilde (1991). Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions
Banshenchus (nd) Retrieved from

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A prayer for Imbas

This is a prayer for imbas, or, loosely, divine inspiration, taken from my book By Land, Sea, and Sky. The prayer itself was modified from  Dia Liom a Laighe 2, Carmina Gadelica volume 1, by alexander Carmichael.

Imbas With Me

Imbas with me lying down,
Imbas with me rising up,
Imbas with me in each ray of light,
I am a ray of joy with such inspiration,
I am a ray of joy with such inspiration.
Imbas with me sleeping,
Imbas with me waking,
Imbas with me watching,
Every day and night,
Each day and night.
Gods with me protecting,
Imbas with me directing,
Imbas with me strengthening,
For ever and for evermore,
Ever and evermore

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


"Three renovators of the world: the womb of woman, a cow's udder, a smith's moulding-block." - Traditional Irish Triad

  One of the most popular Irish goddesses in modern times is Brighid, also called Brigit, Bríd, Brig, Bric, Bride, Brigantia, Brigandu. A pan-Celtic goddess, in Ireland she was a deity of healing, fertility, poetry and smithcraft, sometimes seen as a single deity and sometimes as three sister deities. As three sisters, they were daughters of the Daghda; Brighid of the poets, Brighid of the forge, and Brighid the healer. It is very difficult however to sort out which Brighid of the three was meant in any story or reference to her. Many people simply treat her as a single Goddess, although this may be oversimplifying. For a modern polytheist who wants to honor all three Brighids logical choices must be made about which Brighid would have most fit each story or attribution; that said Brighid below will be discussed as a single Goddess, with the understanding that any one of the three could likely be referred to. O'hOgain says that Brighid, whose name probably means "Exalted One", is a protector and inspirer of poets, as well as being connected to agricultural fertility.  The 9th century glossaries say that "among all the Irish a goddess used to be called a Brigit" (O'hOgain, the Lore of Ireland). Of course most if not all Irish deity names are actually titles or epithet so its hard to judge how meaningful that was in the pagan period, but it does add to the confusion about who exactly Brighid was and is from a pagn perspective. The information we have relating to Brighid comes from the traditional mythology including the Cath Maige Tuired and Lebor Gabala Erenn as well as mythology of the Christian saint of the same name who many believe is a continuation of the Goddess; modern beliefs and practices surrounding Brighid are an amalgam of older pagan sources and newer Christian ones. Much of this is due to the logical assumption that many of the beliefs and practices surrounding the saint reflect older pre-Christian beliefs originally attached to the goddess.
      Finding anything clear cut in Irish myth is difficult and this is true of trying to sort out Brighid's genealogy. In many cases Brid's mother is not listed, she is simply called the daughter of the Dagda (or daughters of the Dagda as the case may be). Now what gets tricky is that in some medieval sources she is given as the mother of the three gods of Danu, which is where some people come to think that she may be the same deity as Danu, although it is impossible to know with certainty if this is so, or only a medieval attempt to reconcile the pagan mythology into a more cohesive system. In mythology she was married to the Fomorian Bres and bore him a son Ruadan; in some stories she also had three sons with Tuireann named Brian, Iachar, and Iucharba although this may result from confusion between her and Danu/Danand. She is viewed as the sister of Angus mac Og, which plays an important role in some of the recent stories surrounding Imbolc, Brighid's special holiday.
    Imbolc is a holy day dedicated to the Goddess Brighid and celebrated on February 1st or 2nd, although Carmichael mentions an older date as well of February 13th. The Gadelica mentions several traditions relating to this holiday. I've blogged about Imbolc before so I won't repeat everything here, but in brief it is a holiday specially dedicated to Brighid in both Ireland and Scotland. There are some modern stories that connect Brighid and the Cailleach at Imbolc; some people say that Imbolc is the day that the Cailleach Bhur releases Brighid who has been held prisoner all winter, while others say that Angus rescues his sister. Still another version says that Brighid and the Cailleach are the same deity, and that at Samhain Brighid becomes the Cailleach while at Imbolc she drinks form a sacred spring that turns her back into Brighid. Although the ideas connecting Brighid and the Cailleach are entirely modern, dating no further back than the 20th century, they have become increasingly popular among neopagans. 
    Brighid was said to have two oxen and a pig who would cry out "after rapine had been commited in Ireland", which O'hOgain says relates her to domestic animals. He also sees her as a mother goddess; the saint is referred to as the foster mother of Christ and this may well reflect an older feeling that Brighid was motherly to all those who prayed to her or honored her. Berresford Ellis also connects her to healing, fertility, smithcraft and poetry and mentions that she and Danu may be equivalents. Brighid has many strong associations to healing, partricularly of livestock, and also to protection and blessing in folk magic charms as can be seen in the Carmina Gadelica material. Brighid has a special healing well and site at Kildare and is associated with water that has healing powers, as well as a special talisman called a brat Bhride (Brigid's mantle or cloak) which is a small piece of cloth left out on Imbolc eve to be blessed by the goddess/saint which would then have healing properties throughout the year.
     Personally I've always also associated Brighid with grief, mourning, and children because of the incident in the Cath Maige Tuired where her son Ruadan is killed and she is said to be the first to ever grieve and keen (caoine) in Ireland. Offerings to Brighid often could include milk, butter, cheese, and bread, and in some cases chickens. For a modern practitioner these would all still be viable options and reflect Brighid's connection to agriculture and dairy products. According to Carmichael her special bird is the oystercatcher, which in Scottish is named Bridein, Bride’s bird, and Gille Bride, paige of Bride. The linnet is also special to the goddess and is named bigein Bride, little bird of Bride. Brighid’s flower is said to be the dandelion, and I have been told that the rowan tree was also particularly associated with her.
I am including my own version of a popular prayer to Brighid, the "Genealogy of Brighid"; this is the version from my book By Land, Sea and Sky.

Genealogy of Brighid (pagan version)
The genealogy of the holy goddess Brighid,
Radiant flame of gold, noble mother of Ruadan,
Brighid, the daughter of an Daghda the Good God,
Brighid, daughter of Boanne, shining white,
Every day and every night
That I say the genealogy of Brighid,
I shall not be killed, I shall not be harried,
I shall not be jailed , I shall not be wounded,
Nor shall my Gods leave me.
No fire, no sun, no moon shall burn me,
No lake, no water, nor sea shall drown mc,
No arrow of fairy nor dart of Fey shall wound me,
I am under the protection of the Gods of life,
And my gentle foster-mother is my beloved Brighid.
-          Modified based on material from volume 1 of the Carmina Gadelica by A. Carmichael, 1900.

Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend by Miranda Green
The Lore of Ireland by Dáithí O hOgáin        
Carmina Gadelica, volumes 1 and 2 by Alexander Carmicheal
 Lebor Gabála Érenn. Part IV. R. A. Macalister, Irish Texts Society, Dublin

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spirits of the land, Spirits of the Otherworld

   One thing that both the Irish and Norse culture share is a fairly similar view of Otherworldly spirits, often in modern times called fairies. Since honoring, connecting, and working with these  spirits is, and always has been, the main aspect of my practice it probably isn't that surprising that I feel drawn to both systems of belief. My own views are based equally on study and experience, although talking about the latter is challenging for me. What I have found though is that many modern pagans and recons have vastly different views on this subject than I do, although I'm not entirely sure why. Where I see real beings that are powerful and intelligent, others talk about caricatures of elemental forces, simplified and minimal, or myths from the past that are treated as a thing of the past. Sometimes I wonder if many of the people talking about the spirits really even believe in them at all, or if it's just an intellectual exercise.
    People talk about connecting to spirits of sacred places or wanting to go visit somewhere that has a reputation for certain spirits, when there are plenty of Otherwordly beings around us where we are. Even cities have their own spirits that abide in them. And when people do acknowledge the spirits where they live they do it in ways that often strike me as odd, although I am obviously only speaking my own opinion here. So this blog is going to be mostly my opinions and views about the spirits of the land and of the Otherworld, and I will say up front that this is all very real to me. Before I knew the pagan gods, before I had any religion to speak of, I knew the aos sidhe; that connection is the bedrock of my belief and my practice.
    Firstly there is the assumption that to connect to local spirits we must understand the local beliefs about those spirits. Now on the one hand I will never argue against research and a better understanding of another cultures' views. But, honestly, I think this can get over-intellectualized; if you want to know the spirits of the area you live in (or your home) then get out there and make the effort to get to know them. Do it and let them get to know you, without getting caught up in what names to use or what offerings are traditional - that part should come organically over time. What matters is reaching out.  Obviously in some cases they may just have no interest in you, or even feel antipathy, and if that happens respect it and leave them alone. But I digress. My point here is that what matters is making the effort. In my own experience I don't think any one type of spirit is limited to one culture or area, but rather that different cultures found names to describe the same type of spirit, just the same as animals and plants were named from one area and culture to another. Variations exist, to be sure, but not so dramatically that a person couldn't make an offering to the spirit of the local river even if they don't know its mythic history.
     I realize this is a broad generalization, and will not be true of everyone - I certainly know people personally who are exceptions to what I'm about to say - but in general I have found that many pagans tend to take an oddly bifurcated approach to the denizens of the Otherworld, separating them into two groups (like the title of this blog) as if they really were separate, when the reality is much more simple and far more complicated. Being animists most will acknowledge spirits-of-place and objects like trees and rivers but it seems to be done in a superficial way, either imagined as vague feelings of awareness, or as primitive sentience, particularly when spirits-of-place are brought up. There is also an idea that these spirits exist only out in nature, and while it may be true that many prefer not to be near human habitations, for a variety of reasons, there are plenty enough that don't mind. Otherworldly beings are viewed anywhere from the stereotypical Victorian fairies to comical or mischievous to elemental forces, but again rarely seen with any real personality or depth. I can't even tell how many times I've heard or seen people referring to all beings of the Otherworld as if they were plant spirits or guardians of our natural world. As if anything with the Aos sidhe was that simple or clear cut. I think what probably bothers me the most, personally, is that there is often an almost condescending attitude about the spirits, as if they require us to care for them, or conversely, as if they exist only to guide us. In my own worldview we do not rank above the spirits in the grand scheme of Power, rather we are at one end of the scale with the Gods at the other and the multitude of spirits inbetween.
   The traditional belief in both Irish and Icelandic culture is that there are a wide array of Spirit beings, and that these beings can bring luck or harm depending on their mood, inclination, and your actions. In Norse belief these beings can include everything from the dead to land spirits, from Alfar (elves) to trolls and other "faery" type beings. In the Irish there is a similar view that the aos sidhe may include the dead, the taken, spirits of particular places, and an almost endless variety of beings, from Pixies to the Alfar-like nobility. The beings of the Otherworld can grant luck and healing, or can torment people and bring illness or death. In Iceland even up to today this belief remains strong enough that roads and other construction are often done with the Elves in mind, lest they be angered. In Ireland within the last ten years roads have been rerouted or redesigned to avoid cuttng down or pulling up faery trees, an act which is believed to curse the people responsible.
      The coat of arms of Iceland features the image of four landvaettir, or land spirits, a dragon, bird, bull, and giant, who are believed to stand at the cardinal points and protect the island to this day. And here we can see the first difference between traditional belief and the common modern belief, because the land spirits (landvaettir) are not seen as vague consciousness at all but as physical spirits with form, awareness and intent. In the same way the faeries are seen as being dangerous to those who disturb them or destroy what belongs to them, not as harmless little creatures or as gentle guides for us. Faeries are not angelic beings, out for our greater good, but rather are independent sentient beings who may or may not be willing to help us, usually at a price.
  Although it is true that dealing with the spirits is always a tricky thing, and often dangerous, it is also true that it can be beneficial and in many ways is, I think, necessary. Historically cultures have always had someone who acts as an intercessory between human society and these beings, and so we still have them today, but it is not required to become a fairy a doctor or seidhr worker to respect and honor the spirits around us. One way to build a relationship with your local spirits is to leave regular offerings; generally milk, cream, or honey work well. I do understand that not everyone perceives Otherworldly beings and that for those who can't see or speak to spirits it really is an act of faith to connect to something that can't be "verified" as it were. But hasn't that always been the way of it? For every man or woman who sees them and for every story spread about interactions with them, there are hundreds more who never see them or even sense them in any way, yet still believe and incorporate honoring them into daily life. At a minimum, if offerings are more than you want to do, at least think of the Otherworldly beings around you - whether ghosts, spirits-of-place, or fairies - as you might your human neighbors. Be polite, be considerate, show respect.

Further reading:,,2786922,00.html
Elves, wights, and Trolls - K. Gundarsson

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Examples of a yarrow blessing charm from the Carmina Gadelica

Possibly one of the best resources for modern Celtic practioners is Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica, a collection of prayers and charms that was gathered in Scotland during the 19th century. Much of the material is Christian but with strong native Celtic themes; this lends itself nicely to modern adaption and the replacement of the Christian parts of the material with pagan elements. Of course in some cases it is possible to simply remove the Christian deity and saint references and use the prayer or charm without them, but in others some type of replacement is required to keep from losing the intrinsic intent of the piece. There is at least one neopagan attempt at doing this out there, and my own book took a specifically Irish pagan approach. Below I am giving an example of what I am talking about, with a blessing charm used to bring increase into someone's life. I'll first showing the original charm from the Carmina Gadelica and then two different possibel alternate versions. As with all such charms this one should be said while picking or harvesting yarrow (as described in the opening lines of the spoken charm), conveying a blessing on the plant, which would then be carried, worn, or kept in the home (or barn) to achieve the desired effect. In a modern setting I know some people who will also recite similar style charm while burning yarrow for the same purpose.

Spell of Counteracting 153

I WILL pluck the gracious yarrow
That Christ plucked with His one hand.
The High King of the angels
Came with His love and His countenance above me.
Jesus Christ came hitherward
With milk, with substance, with produce,
With female calves, with milk product.
On small eye, on large eye,
Over Christ's property.
In name of the Being of life
Supply me with Thy grace,
The crown of the King of the angels
To put milk in udder and gland,
With female calves, with progeny.
May you have the length of seven years
Without loss of calf, without loss of milk,
Without loss of means or of dear friends.
   - Carmina Gadelica, volume 2

Spell of Counteracting 153
I will pluck the gracious yarrow
That Brighid plucked with her hand.
The gracious Lady of Healing
Came with her lovely face above me.
Bright Brighid came towards me,
With milk, with substance, with produce,
With female calves, with milk product.
In the name of the Beings of life
Supply me with your abundance,
The blessings of the Lady of the well
To put milk in udder and gland,
With female calves, with progeny.
May you have the length of seven years
Without loss of calf, without loss of milk,
Without loss of means or of dear friends.
   - By Land, Sea, and Sky

Spell of Counteracting 153 version 2

I will pluck the gracious yarrow
That Brighid plucked with her hand.
The gracious Lady of Healing
Came with her lovely face above me.
Blessed Brighid came towards me,
With abundance, with substance, with prosperity,
With sustanance, with all that I need.
In the name of the Gods of Skill
Supply me with your abundance,
The blessings of the Lady of the Well
On the hard work of my hands,
With sustanance, with all that I need.
May you have the length of seven years
Without loss of work, without loss of income,
Without loss of means or of dear friends

In the same way this charm could be redone in the name of a different deity that the person speaking felt was more appropriate or better suited. For example:

I will pluck the gracious yarrow
That an Dagda plucked with his hand.
The generous God of all good Skills
Came with his smiling face towards me.
Eochu Ollathair came towards me,
With abundance, with substance, with prosperity,
With sustanance, with all that I need.
In the name of the People of Art
Supply me with your abundance,
May the keeper of the ever full cauldron
Bless the hard work of my hands,
With sustanance, with all that I need.
May you have the length of seven years
Without loss of work, without loss of income,
Without loss of means or of dear friends