Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Healing the Waters

   This ritual was designed and written originally several years ago for the Gulf oil spill, and was used again after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. With the current major chemical spill in West Virginia I thought I would offer a fresh water version of the previously ocean-oriented ritual for people who would like to use it.  It is meant for use by anyone of any tradition, but is designed from an Irish perspective, based on an understanding of the sacredness of water from that viewpoint and a belief in the inherent spirit of rivers.
stream at Devil's Hopyard, CT

   Go to a source of running water, if possible, and hold ritual as you normally would. If you can't physically go to any water then decorate your altar with a water theme using whatever most connects you to the river, lakes, or other fresh water sources. It may be best to invoke a  Deity connected to a river, or focus on energy that resonates with fresh water. At the centerpoint of the ceremony make an offering to the water symbolic of healing, something safe and biodegradable; if you are inside use a bowl of water to represent the living water and place your offering in there. Say the following prayers:

"O Gods of the waters,

 O spirit of the river
 give healing to the waters
put health in the flowing river,
to enrich the vast waters
to liven the dying river" *

(make your offering)

"I come here in prayer on this day,
Day to send healing on the vast waters,
Day to send health to fish and fowl,
Day to put right the web in the warp.

Day to put life in the moving river,
Day to place health 
in the spirit that inhabits,
Day to cleanse, day to bless,
Day to put right a great wrong.
Day to put life back in the river,
Day to send health to the life in the water,
Day to make a most effective prayer,
Day of power, Gods bless the vast river,
Day of power, may the river be blessed."*
Finish ritual as you normally would. If you were indoors try to take the offerings to a source of water to pour them out so that they can symbolically be given to the affected river. Visualize the water flowing into rivers, lakes, streams, larger rivers, and eventually the ocean, evaporating, condensing, falling back to earth as rain; connecting all water on earth together through the water cycle and allowing your healing energy to go where it needs to go.

* these are modified from prayers out of volume 1 of the Carmina Gadelica. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ode to Caring for a Chronically Ill Child ~ for Paige

Sometimes I feel like the ocean
My waves fighting against
a relentless shore that refuses
to yield to my determination
High tide follows low in an endless
cycle of loss and gain and loss again
and you float upon the water, mo ghra
a tiny currach, without oars,
at the mercy of wind and wave
and the remorseless pull of land
blissfully unaware, you rest, held
up on the surface of my concern
What you are not able to feel, 
I will feel for you, mo ghra,
the heat of day, the cold of night,
the pain of injury and illness
your heartbeat, irregular as
my waves breaking on the shore
I will feel them all for you
As I feel each pounding wave
Do not fear the drag of land, mo ghra,
I will keep you from the jagged rocks
My surging sea will keep you safe
My waves will cradle you gently
And I will sing to you of stars and love
and if I cannot save you from the shore
then I will hold you all the way in

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sacred Horses

  Horses have long been seen as sacred animals in Irish paganism. Evidence shows the presence of horses in Ireland as far back as 3000 BCE and we know that during the Celtic period they played an important role (O hOgain, 2006). Horses were a status symbol, a very practical means of transportation, work animals, and also served in warfare, the Irish fighting mounted and with chariots. Many Irish Gods are associated with horses, including Macha, Aine, Dagda, and Manannan, and tests of mythic kingship often feature horses (O hOgain, 2006). Aine, for example, was said to take the form of a red mare and travel around the area near Knockainey. Horses often figure in mythological tales; for example Cu Chulain's horses played a role in the Tain, with one of them, the Grey of Macha, weeping prophetic tears of blood before the hero's death. The horses of Donn are said to escort the dead to the Otherworld, by some accounts, and horses were believed to be able to see ghosts and spirits (O hOgain, 2006). Horse skulls and long bones, like human ones, were preserved in ossuaries and there have been archeological finds that included the ritual burial of horses that are believed to have died naturally, showing the importance that the Celts gave to horses (Green, 1992).
    Even up until more modern times horse symbolism was important, and we see things like the Lair Bhan, (white mare) a person dressed up in a white sheet holding a carved horse head or skull who led a procession from house to house at Samhain. Holidays like Lughnasa prominently featured horse racing, which might be a race over a flat course or involve the riders swimming the horses across a river. An very old Irish belief was that horses had once been able to speak as humans could and that they were still able to understand people, making it important to always speak kindly to them (O hOgain, 2006). There are also a wide array of beliefs relating to Otherworldly horses like the Each Uisce and Kelpie; the movie Into the West deals with the story of an Otherworldly horse's relationship with two children in modern Ireland. It was believed that the seventh filly in a row born of the same mare (with no colts in between) was a lucky and blessed animal, called a fiorlair, a true mare (O hOgain, 2006). A true mare was naturally exempt from witchcraft and fairy enchantments, and this protection extended to her rider (Monaghan, 2004). Horses in general were lucky and would be walked over newly plowed fields, on the belief that a horse trampling freshly planted seed would make the crops grow better (O hOgain, 2006). Many protective charms and superstitions are aimed at protecting horses from the evil eye, fairy mischief and general ill health.
    At least one author suggests that eating horse meat was taboo in Ireland except under rare ritual circumstances; although we know that horses were eaten in Gaul and southern England they did not seem to be considered a food animal in Ireland (Monaghan, 2004; Green, 1992). Reflecting the sacred and important place that horses had in the culture, sites in Gaul that include the remains of sacrificed horses usually also include human sacrificial remains (Green, 1992). We know that in specific cases in Ireland horses were sacrificed and eaten,  in association with the crowning of a king. Ceisiwr Serith posits that horse sacrifices at ritual inaugurations are related to similar Indo-European practices, especially Vedic (Fickett-Wilbar, 2012). A ritual was enacted in Ulster, according to Gerald Cambrensis writing in the 13th century, where the new king had sex with a white mare who was then killed and stewed; the king bathes in the stew and then eats it as do the gathered people (Puuhvel, 1981). This ritual likely had  ties to the horse's symbolism and represented the king joining with the goddess of sovereignty (whichever one that may have been, I suspect Macha, although killing a horse wouldn't make sense when that was the animal that may have represented her).
     Although I support traditional religious animal sacrifice in a Celtic and Norse context I am absolutely against sacrificing or eating horses. This is a controversial topic, but my opinion on this is firm. At one time I had held a different view on this born, I must admit, out of a hesitance to judge modern cultures that still eat horses. But the reality is I can judge the practice as wrong - like eating whale, dog, or tiger - without condemning the entire culture that does it. The ritual recorded by Gerald is a main one used by modern people wanting to do horse sacrifices to defend the idea, however it should be obvious for several reasons why this ritual does not justify modern horse sacrifice. Firstly, it was rarely done, as far as the evidence we have shows, and only on the most significant of events, the crowning of a king and his marriage to the land. We have no modern equivalent to this. Secondly the ritual also involved public bestiality and bathing in the food before it was served; I hope the reasons not to do this is self-evident. Beyond this, as can be seen by the Gaulish examples of interred horse and human sacrifices, the killing of horses seems to have been viewed as an occasion of the utmost gravity, on par with offering a human life. Green theorizes that these events related to the fulfillment of battle pledges, where a warrior going to fight promised to give to the Gods all the spoils of war, including weapons, horses, and human captives in exchange for victory (Green, 1992). Just as we no longer practice human sacrifice because it goes against our social norms and morality, so too should we leave horse sacrifice in the past. Horses, like dogs, are animals that we have domesticated to work with us and as pets; they are not food. In the past our ancestors may have eaten them, but they also had far fewer options than we do; they needed to eat their domestic pets - we don't.
   I also feel strongly that it is wrong to sacrifice horses to Macha especially. In Irish myth it is almost always geis to eat the animal that represents or is connected to you; Cu Chulain has a geis against eating dog, Dairmud has a geis not to hunt the boar that is magically bound to him, and Conaire cannot hunt birds, to give some examples. Since horses are Macha's animal it follows that killing or eating them would be offensive to her. I personallt received a geis against eating horse when I became her priestess. We do not have a single example from myth or folklore of horses being sacrificed to Macha and we do have evidence that killing or eating a symbolic animal was taboo.

   There's a great group on Facebook called Pagans and Heathens for the Horses for people interested in taking a public stand against horse slaughter. You can also consider petitions like this one or this one to sign, speaking out against legalized horse slaughter in the United States.
   There are also more direct ways to help, if you feel moved to do something in honor of horses or in the name of a horse related deity. You can donate to a horse related charity such as Equus, or find a local horse rescue in your area. A friend's uncle has been giving homes to abandoned horses for years and is now struggling to feed them - if you want to help there is a page set up for donations here. If its possible you can consider finding a local stable and taking riding lessons, or just visiting to spend some time around the animals. Getting to know horses in the real world will give you a much better understanding of their importance and sacredness in the ancient world, in my opinion.

O hOgain, D., (2006) The Lore of Ireland
Monaghan, P., (2004). Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore
Green, M., (1992). Animals in Celtic Life and Myth
Puuvel, J., (1981) "Aspects of Equine Functionality," in Analecta Indoeuropaea , pp. 188–189
Fickett-Wilbar, D (2012). Ritual Details of the Irish Horse Sacrifice in Betha Mholaise Daiminse, Retrieved from

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book review - Tvaer Galdraskraedur or Two Icelandic Books of Magic

  I haven't done a book review in a while, so I thought it was time to offer one. I recently read Tvaer Galdraskraedur or Two Icelandic Books of Magic, a book offered by Strandagaldr (Icelandic Musuem of Sorcery and Witchcraft). Since I very much enjoyed it I thought it would be a good choice to review.
    This is a fascinating work that is, effectively, excerpts from Icelandic grimoires. Each rune stave is shown with a short description in Icelandic and English which describes how to use it and what it does. The book itself is a consolidation of several surviving grimoires from 17th and 18th century Iceland and includes staves for a variety of things, often with multiple staves for any single purpose. These include everything from winning in court or catching a thief, to testing a woman's virginity or turning her heart to you, to casting out spirits and protecting from witchcraft. Two versions of the somewhat infamous "Fretrúnir" are given, which I was pleased to see, as they comprise one of the more interesting aspects of Icelandic rune magic. There are also several prayers listed, all thoroughly Christian, although in other sections the Norse Gods - particularly Baldr, Thor, and Odin - are invoked. There is a section which offers a variety of seals, along the lines of what one might find in a ceremonial magician's text, like the Lesser Key of Solomon. I will warn readers though that at one brief point several descriptions/prayers are translated not into English but in Latin, so if you don't speak either Icelandic or Latin you won't be able to understand what those few runestaves are for.
   The book's biggest drawback is that it does not get into the theory or history of the runestaves or runic magic, although it does briefly discuss a history of the grimoires in Iceland during the introduction. However there are other books on the market that one could buy that do get into the theory if you want that end of things. I'd recommend having at least a basic knowledge of runic magic or runestaves if your interest in this book goes beyond curiosity. That said though, the collection of staves offered is impressive and the descriptions attached to each - although short - are very interesting and include details like what materials to use, what (if any) words to say, and where to place the stave.
   This book is a good investment for anyone interested in runestaves or in the history of Iceland, as a lot can be gleaned from looking at the topics of the staves. For example, apparently people were mostly concerned with fishing, lawsuits, women, thieves, trading, evil spirits, overcoming enemies, and hexing livestock. And occasionally cursing their enemies with dysentery. For modern runic practitioners having access to such a wide collection of staves with the attendant descriptions is invaluable. Definitely worth getting a copy while they are available.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fun with Novel Writing

Just thought I'd share: I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time last November and wrote an urban fantasy novel. After a few friends read it and encouraged me to publish it I decided to go ahead and go for it. I'd been editing and revising it but, in attempting to get one of the NaNo prizes - a free hardcover - I appear to have just accidentally published my novel on Lulu. Ummm. Oops? LOL So here it is - my first ever novel