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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Random Irish Mythology Trivia

* Nuada is left handed - he lost his right arm during the fight with the Fir Bolg warrior Sreng, and we are told it was his shield arm, meaning his sword arm is his left arm 

* Speaking of Nuada's arm, when it is healed it is the original flesh arm that is restored, which Miach acquires and holds against his body for six days, then strikes it with burnt bulrushes for another three. Which makes me wonder where the arm was for the intervening 7 years. 

* When Miach heals Nauda's severed arm by replacing the silver prosthetic with the original flesh arm he is paid with the silver arm - which Nuada has been wearing and using for about 7 years

*The Lia Fail would cry out under every rightful king of Ireland - until Cu Chulain came along and hit it for not crying out under him. The Lia Fail is also the only one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha De Danann that has no set owner. Each of the other three - cauldron, sword, and spear - belong to someone who is at one point High King of the Gods.

* one of Lugh's epithet's in the Lebor Gabala Erenn is "spear-slaughterous"; the great spear which is one of the four treasures of the Tuatha De Danann belongs to him.

* the Dagda's famous magic club doesn't actually belong to him - its only on loan. He obtained it while searching for a cure for his son Cermait who had been killed by Lugh for sleeping with Lugh's wife. He came across three men who were arguing over their inheritence which included a club which could kill at one end and revive at the other. The Dagda asked if he could borrow it and promptly used it to kill all three and revive his son, who shamed him into reviving the three men as well. After that he basically refused to return it, but an agreement was reached that he would permanently borrow it, giving the sun, moon, sea, and land as sureties against it. 

* In several stories the Dagda is said to be "the king of the sidhe of Ireland" and it's implied he has authority over all the other fairy hills and their rulers.

* Although the Lebor Gabala Erenn gives an extensive list of the Tuatha De Danann and how they each died in myth, in the Cath Maige Tuired's list of battle deaths Macha is the only female listed among the warriors. In every account regardless of source she is always said to have died with Nuada at the hands of Balor of the Evil Eye. 

* At the end of the Tain Bo Cuiligne the two bulls, who are actually cursed swineherds shape-changed, battle and kill each other. In this way the spell binding them is broken and they are freed. 

* The famous Queen Medb of Connacht was killed by a piece of hard cheese - it was used like a sling-stone by a man avenging his mother's death. She was killed while bathing. 

* In some versions of Cu Chulainn's death a crow lands near the hero who has been disemboweled and has tied himself to a pillar stone. The bird begins to peck at his entrails while he is still alive and Cu Chulainn laughs at it before dying. 

Lebor Gabala Erenn
Cath Maige Tuired Cunga
Cath Maige Tuired
How the Dagda Got His Magic Staff
Aided Meidbe
Aided Conculaind
Aislinge Oenguso
De Gabail in tSida

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When Fairytales Have Teeth

  I was teaching a class last week about the types of Otherworldly spirits more likely to be found during the winter, and I had one of those moments that will sometimes happen where I opened my mouth and spoke off the cuff, as we were discussing the Unseelie Court. I pointed out to the people attending the class that contrary to what most of the young adult novels and paranormal romance currently on the market like to say, the Unseelie Court aren't the emo bad boys of the Fey world who just need a big hug and some understanding. Although its trendy now to see the darker Fey as just as kind and helpful as the Seelie Court, merely grumpy and misunderstood, in folklore there was usually a good reason people feared them and that reason was their tendency towards homicidal reactions and  eating people.

  Traditionally in some areas, notably Scotland, the Otherworld was divided into two groups, the Seelie or blessed court, who generally mean us well, and the Unseelie, or "unblessed" court, who generally mean us harm. It is of course not nearly that simple and there is a lot of fluidity between the two groups; it is not a set and rigid division. If you offend the Seelie Fey they will not hesitate to harm you, and in some cases the Dark Court can be helpful to an individual. But if we look at the bulk of fairy stories from different cultures over the course of written history it is pretty clear that people feared certain types of the Other Crowd for good reason. 

   Water horses (an each uisce) trick people into riding them only to race back to their watery homes, drown, and eat the people. Red Caps dye their hats in human blood. Bogles can bring blight to crops or attack people. And so it goes, with those who are usually described as Unseelie being found in that court because they are malicious towards people without provocation. Because, you see, its not that you have to worry about transgressing and angering them, or being rude and angering them, or anything like that; all you have to do is be at the wrong place at the wrong time and get their attention and they will be inclined to do you harm. Like a tornado or a hungry apex predator, it won't be personal but it could be deadly. 

  It is possible for an individual to earn the favor of a member of the Unseelie Court, just as its possible for someone to anger the normally benevolent Seelie Court, but generally speaking its dangerous to fall into a mindset of seeing them as safer than traditional folklore paints them, or otherwise Romanticizing them. You can choose to interact with more dangerous spirits, but part of the key to doing so safely is the constant awareness that they are dangerous. If you get too comfortable with those beings who we have the most traditional protections against - and with good reason - then eventually something bad will happen. Because all those myths and stories exist because of people who have learned the hard way, just like the reason we're told not to feed wild bears at parks. 

  Everything in the Otherworld is not safe and not all of the beings who dwell there mean us well. And quite frankly its arrogance on our part to think we know more or better than our ancestors, than the cunning folk and wise people who spent life times practicing their skill. If all these Beings were really so safe and easy to deal with, with just the right attitude, then anyone and everyone would have always done so. And we would have no stories of harm, and maiming and death at the hands of these spirits, nor would witches have been seen as dealing with dangerous things. No, the truth is that we cannot simply decide through positive thinking and a belief in the goodness of all spirits that the Other Crowd are harmless; our opinions do not make them a bunch of watered down angels with angst. 

   I have a lot of respect for grizzly bears and their place in the ecosystem but that doesn't mean I ever for a moment confuse them with teddy bears and think I can walk up and give a wild one a hug. Or one in captivity for that matter. Because a wild bear, no matter how noble and beautiful to our eyes, is still a wild bear and its going to do what its nature tells it to do, which may mean ignoring us or may mean ripping chunks out of us. Just so the Dark Court Fey may ignore us or they may hurt us, and this is why there are so many folk protections against them. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fight the Bad Meme - Blog Edition

  I've started a new thing on my social media page, which I call "fight the bad meme", because it seems like every single pagan holiday that rolls around sees an influx of poorly researched memes purporting to 'educate' people about the real history of that holiday and it's traditions. Usually most to all of the information presented in the meme is utter bollocks. So after I've seen the bad info going around enough to think its probably catching on as urban legend-ish fact I'll research the actual history and then post a little educational blurb. After some thought I decided that its worth sharing that information here as well, because really the more the accurate information is spread the better. 

- No, Horus wasn't born on Christmas Day. Neither Horus nor Osiris were born on or around December 25th. As far as I know the major deity births in the Egyptian pantheon were celebrated in early August and were tied to the cyclic flooding of the Nile. There are however more than a dozen figures named Horus in Egyptian mythology so it is not entirely impossible that one could have been celebrated on December 25th but it would have been an odd time given the way the calendar system worked - lunar based would have meant timing to a specific day each year in general would be unlikely*. I have found a reference to one Horus being born on December 25th but I can't date it back earlier than a 1907 book whose purpose was to connect Horus to Jesus so I just don't find it at all credible. I'll keep looking but as of now unless someone can show me actual evidence of an ancient pagan Egyptian festival on that date, I am standing by my statement that Horus was born on an epagomenal day, one of the five extra days in the Egyptian calendar year which occured in late August. Also Horus wasn't born of a virgin - since there's a story about a golden penis being involved in his conception its pretty clear on that point - Horus wasn't baptized, didn't have disciples, didn't raise a dead guy, wasn't crucified, and didn't have all the same epithets as Jesus. Horus does have some very interesting mythology, you should read up on him if it interests you.

- Kissing under the Mistletoe isn't a pagan holdover. Kissing under the mistletoe as far as I can find is a later practice, referenced in print to the 1800's, and is neither specifically Druidic nor Norse. Mistletoe was seen as sacred by the Druids, but we have no sources indicating it was hung up or used in fertility rites, although it was seen as having properties relating to fertility. It was hung in the middle ages by several western European cultures to ward off witches and baneful magic, but again no kissing underneath it. In Norse myth it was the plant used to kill the God Balder, and may or may not have become associated during the pagan period as symbol of peace (I can't track down anything definitive). Only during the Victorian period did a story emerge as far as I can find of Balder not dying/being resurrected and the mistletoe being a symbol of Frigga's joy at his return. And we all know what I think of the Victorians rewriting the myths. What is clear is that it was during this period that it became a Christmas practice to hang mistletoe and kiss beneath it, with a berry being removed for each kiss given, until all the berries were gone.

- There is no Scandinavian fertility God named Yule - Yule, in Norse Jol, is the name of the midwinter holiday and is applied to deities like Odin as byname, as in "Jolfadr" but is not itself the name of a God.

- The Oak and Holly Kings don't pre-date 1948. The oak and holly kings are thoroughly  modern and neither ancient nor Celtic, although they are based on older motifs. The idea for the two kings comes from Robert Graves book "The White Goddess", not from pagan Irish or Celtic culture.
  *I'm editing to clarify for those who may not be understanding my larger point here - I am not contesting that the motif of seasonal rulers fighting for dominion of portions of the year exists historically. However my point remains, and I stand by it, that the Oak King and the Holly King as named personages do not pre-date Robert Graves book. There are multiple memes circulating that claim explicitly that they do, and arguing that a modern creation based on older motifs is itself ancient is akin to arguing that since modern paraffin candles are based on older theories paraffin candles are ancient, even though paraffin wasn't invented until the 1850's. 

- Christmas Trees are a 16th Century Protestant Christian Tradition - I hate to ruin everyone's "they stole our pagan traditions" fun but the Christmas tree as it is today is a Christian thing developed in Protestant Germany circa the 16th century. The practice of bringing in evergreen boughs and such to decorate is far older and can be found in cultures from China to Egypt to Europe, and seems to represent a basic human urge to be reminded that life still exists in the depths of winter. It is also clearly true that trees in general were sacred in several pagan faiths and specific sacred trees, groves of trees and the concept of a world tree can be found in both Celtic and Norse pagan religions, as well as the use of carved God posts or God poles. But the killing an evergreen tree and decorating it at midwinter thing simply has no evidence to back it up prior to about 500 years ago. This does not however diminish the sacred symbolism of trees in paganism, or the value of the practice in modern paganism
I suspect it was a conflation of the older pagan veneration of trees and the practice of decorating with evergreen boughs with the later Christian practice of bringing in a tree and decorating it that caused the confusion with this one.

As an addendum to this there's a particularly atrocious meme going around with a festive Christmas tree picture that claims to explain the Pagan origins of the Christmas tree:
* First of all it claims that a tree was brought in so the wood spirits would be kept warm during the cold winter months. A. Why would you kill a tree to do this? I mean you basically just destroyed their home and killed the spirit of the tree. This is not how animism works. B. Wood spirits living in your house is Not A Good Idea. Seriously there's reams of folklore on how to keep this from happening, why on earth would you think people would do it on purpose? C. Also seriously, why do wood spirits need human help to be kept warm exactly? Also what about prior to December when its cold? Do you keep the tree rotting in your house until spring?
* Next, it says food and treats are kept on the tree to feed the spirits. Awesome, congratulations old school pagan your pre-modern technology home now has mice. Well, probably more mice anyway. Out in the open, crawling on this tree to get to the exposed food. Which is what mice do.
* Next it says bells were hung to chime when an appreciative spirit was present. I'm going to ignore the assumption that bells were common enough to even have to do this with and just point out that in most folklore bells are a protection *against* spirits. So you're covering your tree spirit house in anti-spirit charms. Yeah, this is probably not going to work very well.
* Finally it says a five pointed star called a pentagon is placed on top to represent the five elements. Okay, first a pentagon has five sides, not five points, that's a pentagram. Second not all cultures used five elements, and in particular the Celtic and Norse didn't. So the cultures that had evergreen trees that could have been brought inside, wouldn't have used a five element system.

- Pagan Women Were Equal to Men. This isn't holiday themed but I keep seeing it pop up so I may as well address it. No. Pagan women were not equal socially to men before Christianity took power because every culture was different. We might argue that Pagan Irish women had a pretty good deal but pagan Roman women certainly didn't, so we can't make a broad general statement. 

*the calendar was lunar and also tied to the heliacal rising of Sirius, but neither of these would support the idea of Horus being born on December 25th. 

Mistletoe: (ignore references to Balder being resurrected, that's newer myth)
The Oak and Holly Kings:
Christmas trees:
Folkard, P., (2015)  Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics Embracing the Myths, Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-Lore of the Plant Kingdom
Fraser, J., (2002) The Golden Bough
Chamber, R., (1939) Chamber's Journal
Pagan Women:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Winter Solstice

    Although there is no solid evidence connecting Christmas in Ireland to older pagan practices, there are some hints of traditions which may pre-date Christian influence. As Estyn Evans tells us "Although Christmas is the outstanding Christian festival of the year its traditional 'Twelve Days' of holiday are steeped in pagan lore and in folk practices relating to the winter solstice..." (Estyn Evans, 1957, p 279). It is possible that the older solstice customs shifted to Christmas (O Suilleabhain, 1967).
  Preparations began before the holiday, with a thorough cleaning of the home and the gathering of appropriate decorations (Danaher, 1972). As with many other cultures these decorations would include boughs of evergreens, brought into the home. Holly, ivy, Bay, and Laurel were common and usually collected by the children of the family (Danaher, 1972). The emphasis of this holiday was on immediate family but also had community aspects. The holiday itself was celebrated with public ritual - in this case Mass - and followed by public hurling matches and hunting but was otherwise enjoyed quietly at home (Danaher, 1972).
   Gift giving was an extensive practice, virtually a social obligation. Shopkeepers gave gifts to customers, the well-off gave to the less fortunate, and friends and family gifted each other; these gifts could include firewood, food, special seasonal treats, and clothes (Danaher, 1972). In this way gift giving both reinforced social bonds and also acted as charity to support the lower levels of society.
   This time of year, like Samhain, is a time to remember and honor the dead (O Suilleabhain, 1967). One overtly Christian practice which might have older pagan roots, and could in any event be adapted for pagan use, relates to welcoming the traveling holy family on the eve of the holiday. Three plates are left out on the table and a bowl of water is left on the windowsill to be blessed by the spirits during the night; this water is then thought to have healing properties (Danaher, 1972). This folk practice in other parts of Ireland is done to welcome in the spirits of deceased family members seeking to return for the holiday (Danaher, 1972). The custom itself might be of an older, pagan nature which originally related to the dead and was later shifted to the Christian holy family. This can also be seen in the practice of lighting a candle at this time for a family member who has died in the past year, and decorating the graves of family members with holly or yew (Danaher, 1972).
    One similar traditional practice is the lighting of a large white candle in the kitchen window the night before the holiday (O Suilleabhain, 1967). This candle was often lit by the youngest child in the family, and might be decorated with holly (Danaher, 1972). The candle would be allowed to burn either all night or until midnight, and if it was put out or went out early it was thought to be a terrible omen, sometimes seen as foretelling a coming death in the family (Danaher, 1972). It was also thought to be lucky to eat breakfast by candle light (Wilde, 1991).
   There are some indications that it was a tradition in pagan times to slaughter a bull at this time, which later became a Christmas celebration practice (Wilde, 1991). This may perhaps be reflected in the fact that beef, roasted or boiled, was the most popular meal for the holiday (Danaher, 1972). Sweets, apples, and baked goods are also traditional foods. Generally speaking a large meal would be prepared including as much variety as the household could manage.
   There are several omens that might be taken on the day. To hear a cricket was a good omen, as was hearing a rooster crow at night (Danaher, 1972). Snow, frost, and cold weather were seen as good omens, signs of a pleasant spring to come (Danaher, 1972). The special candles lit were also used for divination, as previously mentioned.
   All of these represent Irish traditions which easily be done on the winter solstice for those who wish to celebrate it. The largest adaption required would be to substitute the morning Mass for an appropriate Irish pagan ritual on the morning of the solstice. This should be easily done, and could incorporate lighting candles on the eve of the solstice and waking up to watch the sun rise after the longest night.

Danaher, K., (1972) The Year in Ireland
O Suilleabhain, S., (1967) Nosanna agus Piseoga na nGael
Wilde, L. (1991) Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstition

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Winter Crow

She flies with the snow
Black against white
Badb Catha, battle crow
seeking, always,
those ready to go
whose time is done
whose life has now flown
In blood and battle
In pain and in woe
She seeks them out
Flying to and fro
And brings them home
And brings them home
- M. Daimler, 2015

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Value of Darkness

So I write a lot about the value of darkness and recently I've been making memes about it as well, such as this one:
and this one:


When I posted the first example on facebook yesterday someone asked me, privately, what exactly I meant by 'darkness' which got me thinking about the larger issue of what I was trying to say and why.

First a bit of backstory. This all began a bit tongue in cheek, because I was tired of seeing so many posts and memes about the Light, be the Light, look for the Light, and so on all of which played into and reinforced the idea that darkness = evil or ignorance. Personally I have very light sensitive eyes and am prone to migraines so the Light (tm) isn't exactly my favorite thing in a physical sense. I also am not a fan of the either/or dichotomy that is so very pervasive and tells us that if light is good then darkness is bad, when the reality is that both contain good as well as bad qualities.

I started to think about how undervalued the Darkness is, how many people fail to appreciate it as a force in itself that has many positive qualities. Our senses are sharper at night and we become more aware, not less, of what's around us. We pay more attention. Many animals are active at night, and some people are naturally nocturnal. the night in many ways is a time of beginnings, and indeed Caesar tells us in his 'Gallic Wars' that the Celts reckoned time as beginning in darkness and proceeding into light: "...they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night" (Gallic wars, 6:18).

This idea of the darkness being the beginning of each new day is related, in Celtic thought, again according to Caesar, to the belief that the tribes of Gaul descended from the god "Dis" or Dis Pater, a chthonic god of the underworld, the dead, fertility, and wealth who is often thought to be Secullos viewed through the lens of the Interpetatio Romana. In Ireland Dis would be equivalent, I think, to Donn, as the primal ancestor and keeper of the house of the dead. Many people these days are at best wary of so-called Dark Gods and at worst phobic of them but the chthonic, psychopomp, and death deities deserve a place as much as any other Gods. They've suffered from the same bad PR that darkness in general has gotten, but rejecting the Gods of the underworld and death doesn't help us in any way, it only encourages us to fear the Powers associated with an inevitable transition that all living things eventually face. I have found an amazing amount of peace in establishing relationships with these deities, and in connecting to them I've come to better understand the connection between the balance of good and bad that is found in all things.

The darkness and dark times are often endings but they are also beginnings, and represent the starting point of new things, the dark of the womb and the dark of the seed buried in the earth. The darkness of the very first stirring of a new idea or project, before it has physically manifested at all. Many death and chthonic Gods are also associated with fertility in one way or another and I think this is a logical association both between the cycle of birth, life, and death and also between the darkness as a source of life and growth.

The darkness is a time of rest and renewal, the time when many people sleep; a time of dreams. There is a healing, soothing quality to darkness both physically and mentally. The night can be a time that offers physical rest from the activities of the day, and the stillness that comes when the rest of the human world is sleeping can offer a time of peace and introspection. And some people find the night and its energy empowering and exciting.

The darkness is strongly associated with the unconscious mind and with the negative qualities people can have or experience including anger, fear, pain, hatred, and jealousy. However rejecting these things doesn't make them disappear, anymore than turning on all the lights in your house makes the night cease to exist - it only creates for us the illusion that the things we fear or dislike about ourselves or others are gone. The only way to truly conquer negative feelings is to confront them directly and own that they are part of us, that we as people are not perfect or filled only with the feelings we want to have. I caused myself more misery when I was younger trying to pretend to be happy when I wasn't than I ever felt when I faced the sadness head on and let myself feel it. We can understand that we have negative aspects to ourselves, that we strongly feel negative things, and that these are part of us but that they don't define or control us.

The darkness represents the unconscious and that's part of why we fear it, I think, because it holds an honesty that the consciousness of light and day do not, but does our fear of what we might find at night, or in our dreams, or in our mind really make the darkness itself bad? Or is it instead a place where we can grow by facing the things within ourselves that, once overcome, can make us stronger? We are taught, many of us, at a young age to avoid pain and fear and negative emotions, as we are taught to fear the dark, but avoiding them only hides them - we must deal with them in order to make them part of us, so that we control them and they don't dictate our actions.

There is as much negative in the Light as there is positive in the Darkness. There is balance. The Light can overexpose and destroy, it can burn, it can dissect what it focus on. The Light in its way is a better illusion than any Darkness, and the monsters of the Light are the fiercer.

To me the Darkness is beautiful. It is comforting, nurturing, protecting, accepting; it offers a chance for growth and empowerment. So I write about the positive qualities of Darkness, how it nurtures, how it strengthens, how it protects. We all begin our lives in Darkness, in the womb, and ultimately return to the Dark in the grave, in death. Darkness is with us throughout our lives, and there is much good to be found in it, if we are willing to see beyond the old ideas of light = good/ dark = bad.

copyright 2015 Morgan Daimler

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Noínden Ulaid

Ailiter: Machae dano ben Chruind meic Agnoman doriacht and do comrith fri heacha Concobair, ar atbert an fer ba luaithiu a bean. Amlaid dano bói in ben, is hi inbadhach, cor chuinnigh cairde coro thoed a brú, ocus ni tucad di, ocus dognith in comrith iarum, ocus ba luaithem si, ocus o ro siacht (cenn) in céiti beridh mac ocus ingen - Fir ocus Fial a n-anmand - ocus atbert co mbedis Ulaid fo ceis óited in cach uair dus-ficfad eicin. Conid de bái in cess for Ulltaib fri re nomaide o flaith Concobair co flaith Mail meic Rochraidhe, ocus atberet ba hí sin Grian Banchure ingen Midir Brí Léith, ocus atbeb iar suidhiu, ocus focresa a fert i nArd Machae ocus focer a guba ocus roclannuadh a líae. Unde Ard Macha
  - Prose Dindshenchas

 Furthermore: Macha, moreover, wife of Chruind son of Agnoman who arrived there to race against the horses of Concobar, because her husband had said his wife is quicker. Thus moreover was the woman, she is due for delivery, she seeks a surety compact* to bring forth her womb, and none is given, and she is brought to race therefore, and she is the quicker, and when she reaches the (head of) the assembly she bears a son and a daughter - Fir [True] and Fial [Honorable] were their names - and she said that the Ulaid would be under a complaint of youth in each when their enemies compelled them. Therefore was this debility on the Ulaid for nine days and nine nights  from the rule of Concobar to the rule of Mail son of Rochraidhe, and it is said she was Grian Banchure [Sun of Womanhood] daughter of Midir of [the sí of] Brí Léith, and she died then after that and they put her burial mound in Ard Macha and performed her mourning lament and placed her stone. Whence Ard Macha [Macha's Height].

*cor chuinnigh cairde might possibly also be read as "she seeks a heart friendship" or something similar. The words can mean both a legal respite or mercy, and should perhaps be understood as both. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Translation Tidbits 2

I'm in the middle of writing my fourth novel but I thought you all might enjoy some miscellaneous translation tidbits. These are some of my favorite short pieces from a variety of sources.

Sonus lomma is lenna lir,
buáid comairle in cech caingin,
búaid comperta, clú co mbail,
búaid creiche adiu, buáid slúagaid.
Trí lán ma chluic d'usci úar
do chur esti a n-agaid slúag,
innreth t'innse tairis sin
- Betha Colmáin maic Lúacháin

Luck of milk and plentiful beer,
Victory of counsel in every matter,
Victory of judgments, fame with good luck,
Victory raiding henceforth, victory of hosts
three full good bells of cold water
Your horse-champions towards the faces of the host
Injury to those there forth

Trí coiri bíte in cach dúini: coire érma, coire goriath, coire áiged
- Triads of Ireland

Three cauldrons are in every person: a cauldron of motion, a cauldron of warming*, a cauldron of honor
* goriath is uncertain and may also mean "piousness" giving us a cauldron of motion, a cauldron of piety, and a cauldron of honor (literally "face")

Ré secht mbliadan Nuadat narsheng
Osin chuanairt chéibfind
Flathius ind fir chichmair chuilfind
Ria tiachtain in Hérind
I Maig Thuiredh, truim co trucha,
I torchair cuing in chatha,
Do cosnamaid bán in betha -
Ro lead a lám flatha.
- Lebor Gabala Erenn, vol 4

A space of seven years noble, graceful Nuada
Over a fair-haired warrior-pack
Ruled the greatly keen, fair-tressed man
Before going to Ireland
In Maige Tuired, heavy with doom,
By chance burden in the battle
From the bright defender of life -
Hacked off was his arm of sovereignty.

Fírinde inár croidhedhaibh ocus nertt inár lámhaibh, ocus comall inár tengthaibh - Acallam na Senórach

Truth in our hearts, and strength in our arms, and fulfillment of duty in our tongues

Ní dlig ferann fer cen treoir,
ní dlig degairm fer cen gliaid,
ní dlig cerchaill cenn co mbeoil,
ní dlig feoil fer cen scíain.
- marginalia Harleian 5280

Not deserving of land is a man without action
Not deserving of armoring is a man without battle skill
Not deserving of a pillow is a greasy head
Not deserving of meat is a man without a knife

Ad·fenar fó fíu.
Ad·fenar olcc anmoínib.
Ad·fenar maith moínib.
-          Cethairshlicht Athgabálae

Good is repaid by worthiness
Bad is repaid by un-treasures
Excellence is repaid by treasures

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Crossing Lines

  As my regular readers know I almost never get political on this blog. I try to avoid that sort of thing because, quite frankly, that's not what this blog is for.
   However, there's been a recent issue coming up in the wider pagan community*, which is itself just another verse of an older song, relating to elders in paganism making comments that are exclusionary and prejudiced. And that particular issue is more or less concurrent with another hate crime committed by people who may be associated with both White Supremacy and American Asatru. And honestly, yes I'm biased in both cases as someone who is non-binary gendered and who has a Heathen Kindred that includes someone of non-European ancestry, but I'm also just tired of it. And I'm tired of seeing so very many people in the community defending attitudes that exclude minorities with comments like "Yes, but they can have their own communities" and "Yes, but people are set in their ways and shouldn't be expected to change.". What I see is people - usually people not directly effected by the exclusions - making excuses and justifications.
   Seriously, people? That's asinine. I've been kicking around the pagan community for more than two decades and one thing that's always been true, until recently, was that paganism - in general - was a place for outsiders, for boundary pushers, for the minority of the minority. Have we really forgotten our own history so completely? Do we not remember when we were the ones who weren't accepted, weren't tolerated by mainstream society at all? We have a long, long history as a religious movement of pushing other people out of their comfort zones, of saying that we deserve acceptance because we exist, and in existing we have the same rights as everyone else. But now we're going to turn around and say within our own religions that doesn't apply to everyone? I realize some of these problems, especially racism in Asatru, have deep roots, but the hypocrisy needs to be addressed. We can't simultaneously have an attitude that says the rest of society must accept us and give us equal treatment, while refusing to do the same within our own community. We're letting lines be drawn when we, as a wider community have always been about crossing lines.
    I'm not generally against individual groups being able to choose who can and can't join. I'm not against groups controlling membership based on criteria they choose when that criteria makes sense in the context of the group. Individual groups are complex and group dynamics influence these things. An Irish pagan group only including people who follow Irish paganism, makes sense. A Heathen Kindred that is only open to people who honor Norse gods makes sense. A group that includes children choosing to exclude registered sex offenders is common sense. A private group that only lets in people who mesh well with existing members is one thing; a public group that wants to be public but also exclude is another. Groups have specific definition that establish who they are and create boundaries. But, no the color of someone's skin, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, or their gender identity should not be a factor.
    Being Heathen isn't about having a certain amount of Germanic ancestry, or a certain skin color. Being a woman isn't about having a uterus or a certain chromosome combination. Just like being Pagan isn't about having the biggest pentacle (or Thor's hammer, or triskele or whatever). It's what's inside that defines us, and its always been what's inside that defines us. For people who so poetically say that our connection to our religion, to our Gods, is something internal that we feel we can't turn around and shift those goal posts to say that suddenly what's inside doesn't matter as much as what's outside.
    And if you are going to be a public figure than you are accepting the burden that comes with that, which includes the scrutiny and having your words given more weight than other peoples. If you are considered an elder then you should strive to be someone worth looking up to - or don't look for that position. When you speak publicly, when you take public stands on issues, for good or ill, your voice is louder and carries further than someone else's. Make your words count. Make sure you are speaking from a place of wisdom and compassion, not of fear. There is too much fear in the world already, we don't need more of it.
    So the next time anyone says that someone doesn't belong in the Pagan community, at a public ritual or event, or in a national organization because of an external factor, don't just make excuses. We, as a community fought for and earned the right to follow our religion in prison, in school, in the military. We fought for and earned the right to have a symbol of our faith on a military headstone. We have fought for the right to be acknowledged and given the same basic rights as every other religion. Don't turn your backs on that history now by deciding that our inclusiveness, our sense of community only applies if you look like you fit in.
      Either we stand together, or we fall.

*obviously all of this is aimed very generally, and I am using the term "Paganism" and "our religion" as blanket terms to cover the diverse traditions and groups within the wider community. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Influence of Fiction and Hollywood on Paganism

       I've been pagan for a couple decades now and I've observed a couple trends over that time. One of the most perplexing to me is the way that popular fiction - by which I mean novels, television, and movies - shapes and influences paganism. The reason it perplexes me is because the things that get picked up and absorbed into the pagan paradigm are often based in plot points and rarely fit well or make sense (to me) in actual practice. I've had friends argue, however, that this reflects a normal growth and evolution within the wider community, creating the dynamic which is modern paganism. From this viewpoint modern paganism is woven as much from current fiction and popular culture as it is from past mythology and belief.
     I'll provide a few examples of things that I have noticed and the sources I attribute to them, based on apparent corollary relationships. This isn't a scientific study, just personal observation. 

     Within a few years of the release of the movie The Craft I noticed an upswing in people condemning love magic as dangerous, calling on the made-up deity Manon, and a sudden trend towards people looking for an elemental balance in their groups, either using zodiac signs or affinity to elements. After Practical Magic came out I noticed a huge surge in people claiming to be natural witches. The Mists of Avalon (book and later movie) created a belief in a division between female witches and male druids (exacerbated by another fiction novel marketed as non-fiction), and forehead tattoos . The Charmed television series provided an array of beliefs I've run across in the pagan community, including the belief that magic shouldn't be done for personal gain, that familiars guide and protect new witches, in "whitelighters" as healers, and that each witch has a special power.
    Thor and the Avengers movies as well as the comics are other good examples. How many times have I seen, recently, people saying Thor and Loki are brothers, even though that's a complete modern fiction? That Sif is a warrior? People who have never read the Eddas or any other Norse myth are incorporating Marvel Thor's mythology instead. 
     And then there is the way that some modern pagans have redefined fairylore based on popular fiction and movies, so that fairies become exclusively tiny winged figures, and guardians of nature. I'm giving a side eye to Fern Gully and the Tinkerbell movies here, although they are only the most recent pop culture result of a slightly older trend going back to the Victorian era.
      Why does any of this matter? Well, what I struggle with is the way that many of these beliefs are not rooted in anything and cannot be explained. When I asked someone telling me that Druids had to be men and I should be a witch why that was so he could only say because it was "how it was always done" even though that isn't true outside of fiction. When I asked someone claiming familiars protect and guide new witches how her cat does that she could not explain except to say that it was what her friend told her. When I asked the woman who was lecturing me about never doing magic for personal gain but only ever to help other people why the old cunningfolk were paid for their services; well she just gave me a dirty look and stormed off. When I asked the girl telling me that she needed someone who was an "air" person to complete her Circle why she needed elemental balance - what would happen when she had it? Would the group size be limited to 4? What about traditional covens of 13? - she couldn't tell me.
     Paganism already suffers from a lack of understanding of our own beliefs and cosmology; many people repeat beliefs by rote not from a place of comprehension. And we should understand what we believe, the meaning and purpose behind what we say. We should know why we do what we do. Grafting on beliefs that are rootless, that have nothing behind them except an author's need to forward or complicate a plotline, does not help us; in fact can only hurt by muddying already misunderstood waters. You can't explain a belief that is based in the writers need to keep their characters from solving things too easily, or which was meant to set up the main conflict of the story. That is fiction - our religions aren't.
   The thing is I love pagan fiction and I think its wonderful - I love that it guides people to eventually finding the religions. I love that the quality of pagan fiction is getting better and that we have more and more books and movies which more accurately reflect the real beliefs, especially the old fairy beliefs. But when the line between the entertaining fiction and the actual religion blurs to a degree that people are practicing the fiction, without understanding it for what it is...that's where I see the problem. It frustrates me to see some of it, although it may be an inevitable evolution of religion based on how we tell our stories now - we don't grow up on the old myths and tales we grow up on Charmed and Disney Tinkerbell...and that shapes our beliefs. I enjoy pagan fiction quite a lot, but I understand it for what it is - entertainment.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Modern Prayers in Old Irish

This is something I've been working on to submit for a anthology* which is looking for modern Celtic Reconstructionist prayers. I thought it would be interesting to offer basic prayers in Old Irish to different Gods.
It is still a work in progress, but this is what I have so far:

Guide Nuada 
Nuada Argetlam
Nuada fo dí Ríg
Nuada narsheng
Guidim do a bhennach
Guidim do a eolas
Guidim do a anacht
Do chairdes form
D’ecne lemm
Do sciath úasum
Dobiur sin duit
Bronntas do bronntas
Nuada Ríg mórda

Prayer to Nuada
Nuada Silver Arm
Nuada Twice King
Nuada Noble-fair
I pray for your blessing
I pray for your guidance
I pray for your protection
Your friendship on me
Your wisdom with me
Your shield over me
I give this to you
A gift for a gift
Nuada mighty king

Guide Macha ar Nert 
I pray to you,
Oh Macha,
Sovereign Lady,
Queen by her
own hand,
Deadly crow
of many battles,
May I be fierce
May I be strong
May I be unyielding
In my own strife

Prayer to Macha for Strength
Guidimm cuccut,
a Mhacha,
Rígan tree
feisin laim,
Fionóg bhadbda
de ilchathaigecht
Beinn adlond
Beinn nert
Beinn taetach
I mu gliada céin

* information on the anthology can be found here, deadline is January 2016

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Samhain isn't pronounced Sam-hane and other truths

    I should probably have titled this post "Grumpy Old Polytheist Ramblings". But there's a lot of so-called educational memes floating around the community right now that are a lot more opinion than fact and I finally decided that it was time to address some specific points. With facts.
    Samhain is pronounced "Sow-win" or "Sow-wen" in Irish and Samhuinn is pronounced "Sah-vihn" in Scottish Gaidhlig; there are of course minor variations with different dialects but in no Celtic language is it pronounced "Sam-hane". As far as I can tell pronouncing it that way comes from non-Irish speakers reading the word and applying English phonetic pronunciation rules to it. But lets be honest here - that doesn't make the mispronounced version correct. That's like me pronouncing "America" Uhm-ehr-ee-suh" and saying that's a legit pronunciation that should be accepted because that's how I read it phonetically. Or for that matter like me saying p-hon-eht-ih-cullee is an okay way to say phonetically. At this point there are enough resources and online pronunciation guides that there's no reason for people not to get Samhain correct. I mean seriously people everyone insists on using the Old Irish spelling for Lughnasadh but people manage to say it Loo-nah-sah just fine, so lets stop acting like mispronouncing Samhain is an okay thing to do.
   And no, there is absolutely no Samhain God of the Dead, or Sam Hane God of the Dead either.
   And, for the record, there is no ancient Celtic tree zodiac (or animal zodiac either), and the whole "Tree Calendar" thing was made up in 1948 by Robert Graves - the Druids never used it and wouldn't have had any clue what it was if you could somehow time travel back a couple thousand years and ask them about it. The Tree Ogham is a real thing but it had nothing to do with dates or months, just with associations between Ogham letters and specific trees; there's also a Bird Ogham where each letter is associated with a bird, and Pig Ogham, and so on. I guess Graves didn't think the Pig Ogham was romantic enough to base a calendar system on...
    Speaking of hard truths - let me burst another bubble for everyone. There is no Celtic pantheon. Really it's true. When you see those lists of deities labeled "Celtic pantheon" in all those books its really just a random list of deities from the different Celtic cultures hodge-podged together. But here's the problem inherent in that - a pantheon by definition is the gods of a specific religion or people, and there was *never* a single over-arching Celtic religion or people. Celtic has always been a term of convenience for describing similar groups based on shared cultural themes, art, and related languages. The mythology, even for the so-called Pan-Celtic deities like Lugh/Llew/ Lugus who are found across the different Celtic culture is different. The Morrigan was a major deity in Ireland but there isn't any evidence of her in Gaul; we find Cernunnos in Gaul but not elsewhere. Even within a single culture their were regional Gods who might be known in this location but not over in this other location. The reason that matters is that in a pantheon you should be able to find stories of the Gods interacting with each other, or at least appearing together, there should be a cohesion of belief and cultus that only occurs in groups of deities that have a genuine unifying factor. You might be able to argue for an Irish Pantheon or a Gaulish Pantheon, but understand that Celtic as such is pretty meaningless for religious purposes.
   Also, although we may not like to admit it, yes the ancient Celtic cultures - and pretty much all ancient cultures - practiced human sacrifice. This isn't some kind of nasty propaganda, its just a fact. When we're going around trying to act like that sort of thing never happened because it goes against our modern mores it just makes us look kind of silly.
   And since I'm on a roll, the Good Folk are not elementals and not all of them are nature spirits. That whole twee little garden sprite thing is a very Victorian idea. They aren't angels, and they also aren't our special spirit guide friends. Some of them may care about humanity at large but a great many them don't. Sometimes they help us, but sometimes they harm us and we can't just decide they are all sweet and gentle and make it be so.
   One final note, on the subject of hard truths - there is a difference between an opinion and a fact. An opinion is how you feel about something. In my opinion dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate. A fact is an objective reality. Chocolate is made from cacao beans. The first example is my opinion, other people may disagree or have different opinions and that's fine; the second example is a fact and is not open to someone else's disagreement. In other words you might think milk chocolate is better than dark, and that's your opinion which is fine, but you can't just decide that chocolate is actually made from coffee beans because that simply isn't true. In spirituality some things are opinion, and some things are facts. Its really important to know the difference between the two.
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Crom Cruach

   One of the more interesting non-Tuatha De Danann deities that some people choose to honor today is Crom Cruach, synonymous according to scholars with Cenn Cruiach, and likely also the same as Crom Dubh (Smyth, 1988; O hOgain, 2006; MacNeill, 1962). Crom means bent, stooped or crooked; cruach has a wider array of meanings including stack of corn; rick; heap, conical pile, gory, bloody; high-coloured; bloodthirsty, slaughter, wounding, carnage. The meaning of Crom Cruach's name is uncertain but many people seem to read it as either "bent bloody one" or "crooked heap". Cenn Cruiach may mean "head of the hill" (MacNeill, 1962). Crom Dubh may mean "Black stooped one" or "dark croucher" and Daithi O'hOgain believes all the different iterations of Crom are actually derived from Christian imagery of the anti-Christ (O hOgain, 2006). In contrast Daragh Smyth sticks with the literary suggestion that Crom was the primary God of the pagan Irish before the conversion (Smyth, 1988).
   In modern folklore many Lunasa celebrations center on the defeat of Crom by saint Patrick, often on the last Sunday in July or first in Sunday August which is called Domhnach Chroim Duibh - "Crom Dubh Sunday" (Smyth, 1988). Marian MacNeill believes that these stories likely reflect older pagan stories which would have pitted Lugh against Crom, where Lugh must secure the harvest for the people, but that after Christianization the Catholic saint replaced the Tuatha De Danann God (MacNeill, 1962). Crom at Lunasa represents the primal force that is either trying to steal the harvest or keep the harvest and with whom a hero must contend to secure supplies for the community. Many of the myths relating to Lugh and Crom Dubh, who is sometimes called Crom Cruach, involve Lugh battling and outwitting Crom and thus insuring the safety and bounty of the harvest; in some cases this theme is given the additional layer of the defeat, sacrifice, consumption, and then resurrection of Crom’s bull which may argue for an older element of bull sacrifice on this day (MacNeill, 1962).For the three days of Lunasa the Goddess Aine is Crom's consort, and she herself takes on a more fierce aspect to match him (MacNeill, 1962).
  Besides Lunasa Crom is strongly associated with Samhain when it was said he was honored at Mag Slecht with offerings of the firstborn of every living thing in exchange for a good harvest of corn and milk. According to the Rennes Dindshenchas 3/4 of the people who bowed down to him died:
’Tis there was the king-idol of Erin, namely the Crom
Cróich, and around him twelve idols made of stones; but he
was of gold. Until Patrick’s advent, he was the god of every
folk that colonized Ireland. To him they used to offer the
firstlings of every issue and the chief scions of every clan. 

’Tis to him that Erin’s king, Tigernmas son of Follach, repaired
on Hallontide*, together with the men and women of Ireland,
in order to adore him. And they all prostrated before him, so
that the tops of their foreheads and the gristle of their noses
and the caps of their knees and the ends of their elbows broke,
and three fourths of the men of Erin perished at those prostrations.
Whence Mag Slecht ‘Plain of Prostrations
  (Stokes, 1895)
In the Metrical Dindshenchas we are told of saint Patrick's destruction of Crom's statue at Mag Slecht:
  "Here used to stand a lofty idol, that saw many a fight, whose name was the Cromm Cruaich; it caused every tribe to live without peace.
Alas for its secret power! the valiant Gaedil used to worship it: not without tribute did they ask of it to satisfy them with their share in the hard world.
He was their god, the wizened Cromm, hidden by many mists: as for the folk that believed in him, the eternal Kingdom beyond every haven shall not be theirs.
For him ingloriously they slew their hapless firstborn with much wailing and peril, to pour their blood round Cromm Cruaich.
Milk and corn they asked of him speedily in return for a third part of all their progeny: great was the horror and outcry about him.
To him the bright Gaedil did obeisance: from his worship—many the crimes—the plain bears the name Mag Slecht.
Thither came Tigernmas, prince of distant Tara, one Samain eve, with all his host: the deed was a source of sorrow to them.
They stirred evil, they beat palms, they bruised bodies, wailing to the demon who held them thralls, they shed showers of tears, weeping prostrate.
Dead the men, void of sound strength the hosts of Banba, with land-wasting Tigernmas in the north, through the worship of Cromm Cruaich—hard their hap!
For well I know, save a fourth part of the eager Gaedil, not a man—lasting the snare—escaped alive, without death on his lips.
Round Cromm Cruaich there the hosts did obeisance: though it brought them under mortal shame, the name cleaves to the mighty plain.
Ranged in ranks stood idols of stone four times three; to beguile the hosts grievously the figure of the Cromm was formed of gold.
Since the kingship of Heremon, bounteous chief, worship was paid to stones till the coming of noble Patrick of Ard Macha.
He plied upon the Cromm a sledge, from top to toe; with no paltry prowess he ousted the strengthless goblin that stood here.
"  (Gwyn, 1924)
  According to another story in a late version of saint Patrick's life the saint overthrew Crom, possibly under the name of Cenn Cruiach, whose statue of gold-embossed stone was at Mag Slecht surrounded by 12 silver-embossed statues (Smyth, 1988; O hOgain, 2006). In some versions he ordered Crom's statue to be buried after destroying it. Of course given the shifting that MacNeill speculates occured at Lunasa between Lugh and saint Patrick battling Crom one does wonder if perhaps it wasn't Lugh who originally confronted and destroyed Crom's statue at Mag Slecht, but that's pure speculation. Several scholars, including MacNeill and Smyth suggest a possible connection between Crom and Lugh's Fomorian grandfather Balor. 
   Crom Cruach is associated with Samhain not only in the Dindshenchas but also in several other sources.
According to the Annals of the Four Masters:
  "M3656.2 It was by Tighearnmas .... At the end of this year he died, with the three fourths of the men of Ireland about him, at the meeting of Magh Slecht, in Breifne, at the worshiping of Crom Cruach, which was the chief idol of adoration in Ireland. This happened on the night of Samhain precisely. It was from the genuflections which the men of Ireland made about Tighearnmas here that the plain was named."
 Which is reiterated by Geoffrey Keating:
  "And it was at Magh Sleacht that Tighearnmhas himself died and three quarters of the men of Ireland with him on the eve of Samhain while they were in the act of worshiping Crom Cruaidh, the chief idol of Ireland. For it was this Tighearnmhas who first instituted the worship of Crom Cruaidh (as Zoroastres did in Greece) about a hundred years after they had come to Ireland; and it was from the prostrations of the men of Ireland before this idol that that plain in Breithfne is called Magh Sleacht*." (Keating, 1854).
Unlike the two Dindshenchas versions neither of these suggest a direct connection between Crom's worship and the deaths of 3/4 of the men honoring him at Samhain. Keating is unusual in that he explicitly says that it was the pseudo-historical kingTigernmas who introduced Crom's worship to Ireland, placing that occurrence around 1200 BCE (Keating, 1854).
    In the later stories Crom is recast as a human pagan who goes to saint Patrick to be saved or is otherwise converted by him (MacNeill, 1962).
  I am aware of some modern Irish pagans who see Crom as a pre-Celtic agricultural God. They choose to honor him as a bringer or protector of the harvest rather than see him as a cthonic or chaotic force that must be fought against. In this view he is placed alongside the older Gods like the Cailleach as reflecting what could possibly be an echo of neolithic paganism, but of course this is impossible to prove. 

*  Samhain
* Generally understood as a form of sléchtaid meaning "bowing down, kneeling" and you'll often see Mag Slecht translated as the "Plain of Prostration" however its worth noting that slechtaid (without the fada over the e) means cutting down, slaughtering which in context would also fit equally well and would make the name of the plain "Plain of Slaughter". At the least I'd suggest this is a good example of the type of double meaning we see so often in Old Irish that should be appreciated more in English. 

Stokes, W., (1895) Rennes Dindshenchas
Smyth, D., (1988). A Guide to Irish Mythology
MacNeill, M., (1962) Festival of Lughnasa
O hOgain, D., (2006). The Lore of Ireland
Gwyn, E., (1924). Metrical Dindshenchas
Keating, G., (1854) The History of Ireland

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The St. Gall Incantations

The St. Gall's Incantations are some of the best Irish examples of mixed pagan and Christian folk magic charms. Like much of this material the existing translations are generally pretty old, so I thought it would be fun to offer some new versions today:

The St. Gall Incantations
Cod. S. Galli No. 1395

Against a Thorn

Ni artu ní nim ni domnu ní muir arnóib bríathraib rolabrastar crist assa croich díuscart dím an delg delg díuscoilt crú ceiti méim méinni bé ái béim nand dodath scenn toscen todaig rogarg fiss goibnen aird goibnenn renaird goibnenn ceingeth ass:

 Focertar in depaidse in im nadtét in uisce ocus fuslegar de imman delg immecuáirt ocus nitét fora n-airrinde nach fora n-álath ocus manibé an-delg and dotóeth in dala fiacail airthir a chin 

Against a Thorn
"Nothing higher than heaven, nothing deeper than sea. On account of the powerful speech said by Christ on the cross, remove from me the thorn, a thorn pointedly-cleaves, wounds, destroys, in me there is an opening on account of striking, an unlucky appearance, frightening, a fire springs, very fierce Goibniu’s knowledge, Goibniu’s attention, Goibniu's powerful attention overcomes it":
Put the charm on the butter not into the water and smear around the thorn around its circumference and not on the cut nor on the affliction, and if there is no thorn in it will fall out the second spike* from the front of his head.

Against urinary disease

Ár gálár fúail;~
Dumesursca diangalar fúailse dunesairc éu ét dunescarat eúin énlaithi admai ibdach;~ Focertar inso dogrés imaigin hitabair thúal :•~
prechnytosan (i.e. praedicent) omnibus nationibus FINIT:

Against urinary disease

Against illnesses of urine .
"I am saved from sudden illness of urine, I am saved from salmon envy, I am saved from birds, skillful flocks, spell-workers."
Display this always where you habitually go to pour out.
publish to all nations, the end

Against headache

Caput christi oculus isaiæ frons nassium nóe labia lingua salomonis collum temathei mens beniamín pectus pauli iunctus iohannis fides abrache sanctus sanctus sanctus dominus deus sabaoth
Canir anisiu cach dia im du chenn ar chenn galar • iarna gabáil dobir da sale it bais ocus dabir imdu da are ocus fort chulatha ocus cani du pater fothrí lase 7 dobir cros ditsailiu forochtar do chinn ocus dogní atóirandsa dano •U• fort chiunn

Against headache
"Head of Christ, eye of Isaiah, bridge of the nose of Noah, lips and tongue of Solomon, in mind Benjamin, breast-joined John Paul's faith abrache Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts",
This is sung each day around your head against illnesses of the head. After take spring water putting it through your palms and put it around your two temples and on the back of your neck, and sing your Our Father three times by it, and put a cross for that reason of spring water on the top of your head, and then make this therefore, U, on your head. 

Against various ailments

"Tessurc marb bíu. Ar díring, ar goth-sring, ar att díchinn, ar fuilib híairn, ar ul loscas tene, ar ub hithes cú. Rop achuh rú ,crinas teoracnoe, crete teoraféthe fichte, benim a galar ar fiuch fuili guil Fuil nirub att rée rop slán frosaté admuinur in slánicid foracab Diancecht lia muntir corop slán ani forsate"

focertar inso dogrés itbois láin di uisciu ocindlut ocus dabir itbéulu ocus imbir indamér atanessam dolutain itbélaib cechtar ái áleth

Against various ailments
"I save the dead-alive. Against belching, against javelin-cord, against unkind swelling, against iron wounds, against an edge fire burned, against a point a dog bites. Let him be sharply-red, three nuts withering, believe that three sinews are woven. I strike his illness, I overcome wounds lamenting of blood. Let it not be an endless swelling. Let him be healthy, pouring on I invoke the salve left by Dian Cecht with his family that what it is poured on be whole."

Set this always in your palm full of water while washing, and thou put it in your mouth, and use the two fingers that are next the little-finger in your mouth, each of them separate.

*feocail is usually given here as "tooth" but it reads strangely to say that if the injury has no thorn in it then the person will lose a tooth, or teeth, for saying the charm. However feocail is used poetically to mean a spike as well according to the eDIL and I find it more sensible to read it as I've translated it. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fulacht na Morrigna

   One of the mysterious things that the Morrigan is associated with is called the "fulacht na Morrigna" literally the Morrigan's cooking hearth. A fulacht is a type of outdoor cooking hearth or pit; the smaller ones were named for the Fíanna but the larger ones for the Morrigan (RIA, 1870). These fulachta were associated both with large outdoor stone cooking hearths and with cooking spits, so interchangeably in the texts and academic material that one might assume the two were parts of a single whole. Specific types of wood were associated with the fulacht, particularly in the law texts with the fulacht fían, and these included holly and rowan (Ó Néill, 2003). One might note that one of Cu Chulain's geasa was not to eat at a fulacht, and this is exactly what he ended up doing after encountering the three crones cooking on rowan spits at a fulacht who offered him hospitality - which he also had a geis not to refuse (Ó Néill, 2003).
      We are given descriptions of the Morrigan's fulachts in the Yellow Book of Lecan:
"fulacht na Morrigna in so .i. blogh di feoil huim ocus araili di ḟeoil ḟonaithi ocus mir n-immi irse ocus ni legad a n-im ocus ba fonaithi a n-om ocus ni ba loiscthi an bruithi ocus moale nobitis a triur for in mbir" - Yellow Book of Lecan
(The cooking hearth of the Morrigan is thus that is a portion of raw meat and enjoined of cooked meat and a small portion buttered and nothing melting from the raw flesh and nothing of it burnt by the cooking and at the same time together the trio on the spit.)
And also in a very early Scottish text (utilizing Old Irish) which describes both the Morrigan's fulacht and the Dagda's anvil excerpted here:
Fulacht na Morrigna, and so .i. crand a roth ocus crand a mol edtir teine ocus uisci ocus iarand a corp ocus da nai rethlen as an moil sin. Foluath athlam ic impo h-e. Tricha bir dobid ass ocus tricha drol ocus tricha fertas. Seol foai ocus fo h-ingnadh a cruth re luth a drol ocus a retlen. Fulacht na Morrigna doger ur goband do  - Celt. Rev. viii 74
(Cooking pit of the Morrigan is thus that is a wood wheel and wood axle between fire and water and an iron body and two people raise the wheel. Smoothly and quickly it went around. Thirty spits projected from it and thirty bars and thirty stakes. A sail on it, and a wonder its form when its bars and wheels were in motion. The Fulacht of the Morrigan very sharp edge of a smith.)
      The cooking pit appears in a story recounted in the Agallamh Beg:
"Ba hiat fein do rinde both doibh ind oidchi sin, ocus do rinded indeonadh leo, ocus teid Cailte ocus  Findchadh do indlad a lamha cum int srotha.
'Inad fulachta so' ar Findchadh,' ocus is cian o do rinded.'
'Is fir' ar Cailte, 'ocus fulacht na Morrighna so, ocus ni denta  gan uisce.'" (IRA, 1870)
(It was they who made for themselves a shelter there that night, and made a cooking place by them, and Cailte and Findchadh went to wash their hands in the stream.
"There is a cooking pit" said Findchadh, "and it has been long since its making."
"It is true, said Cailte, "and this is a cooking hearth of the Morrigan, and is not built without water.").
    Archaeological evidence supports the existence of these ancient fulachts which are found across Ireland, and some of the larger ones are considered fulachta na Morrigna with one known of at Tara and one in Tipperary (Martin, 1895). Ó Néill suggests that the fulacht was actually only the wooden portion of the cooking spit and that rather than a fire pit as we would imagine one it actually involved the use of heated stones for cooking (Ó Néill, 2003). He uses a description of the Fían utilizing a fulacht in Keating's Foras Feasa ar Eirinn as well as archaeology to support this; in Keating's account the fulacht was used not only for cooking but also to simultaneously heat water for washing after a morning of hunting so that the warriors would be clean before eating (Ó Néill, 2003). This theory is intriguing and fits the evidence well, explaining why the Morrigan's fulacht was said to need both fire and water; the spits would be used for cooking meat over a fire while heated stones were taken and used to make the water suitable for bathing, as well potentially for boiling food. Since the wood and water would obviously be long gone the only hard evidence left behind would be exactly what we do find at the sites of ancient fulachts: cracked stones in pits that may have been dug to reach water* (Ó Néill, 2003).
   So taking all of this evidence we may perhaps tentatively conclude that the Fulacht na Morrigna was a type of multipurpose outdoor cooking pit. Meat would be cooked on spits, possibly on a rotating assembly or wheel, and water might be heated for use. The smaller fulachts were named for the Fíanna but the larger, and apparently more complex, fulachts were named for the Morrigan.
  Edited to add:
The Morrigan's fulacht is also associated with blacksmiths:
"Perhaps because he also forges weapons of death, the blacksmith is sometimes thought to possess supernatural powers. As we have seen the author of an 8th century hymn asks God for protection from the spells of blacksmiths. The supernatural aspect of this craft is indicated further by the special treatment of the blacksmith in the list of prefessions in Bretha Nemed toísech. In the case of other craftsmen, three necessary skills are listed, but in the case of the blacksmith, the author draws on pagan mythology: 'three things which confer status on a blacksmith" the cooking spit of Nethin, the cooking pit of the Morrigan, the anvil of the Dagda."(Kelly, 2005, page 63)

It may be in this case that it is the skill to create these items which is the measure of the smith's worth, but it is uncertain. 

Royal Irish Academy (1870). Proeedings of the Royal Irish Academy
Martin, W., (1895). Pagan Ireland an Archaeological Sketch
Ó Néill, J., (2003). Lapidibus in igne calefactis coquebatur: The Historical Burnt Mound 'Tradition'
Kelly, F., (2005). A Guide to Early Irish Law

*it is worth noting here that O Néill concludes based on the date of the archaeological fulachts that they significantly predate the written accounts and therefore that the fulachts were likely mere cooking pits; however this leaves open the question of how evidence supports the pyrolithic use of fulachts and medieval texts also hint at this use if there is in actuality no connection. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Reflecting Darkness

So Friday is my birthday. I've been thinking a lot about that, and about something that was posted in a group today about the variety of witches out there:
internet meme; anonymous
     There are many, many approaches to witchcraft and some are completely different from others, but it is true that the vast majority of witches in the Western world seem to follow what is generally termed a "right hand path" or benevolent witchcraft. This approach usually adheres to the things mentioned above: a belief in a Westernized understanding of karma, following the Wiccan Rede, and belief in the Rule of Three. Because this is the most popular approach it can sometimes be seen in groups as the only acceptable approach, particularly with an emphasis on witchcraft that focuses on healing, blessing, protection, and a strong ethic of not causing harm.
I'm a witch.* I have been a witch now for more than 24 years.
   I don't believe in karma*, in the sense that what we do comes back to us in a reward/punishment system, or that being good makes good things happen. I do think that being a good person, however you define that, has value and should be strived for. But I don't think there is some universal power which metes out punishment or reward based on an arbitrary system of good or bad actions.
   I don't follow the Wiccan Rede, because I am not Wiccan, firstly, and secondly because I believe that sometimes "harm" is good and necessary. Sometimes a small harm now prevents a greater harm later, or is being done for a larger purpose, such as the "harm" done to my daughter when she had her cardiac procedure in order to correct a dangerous irregular heartbeat. Sometimes its being done to protect something, like when I have to kill a hive of wasps that is above my garage (my husband is severely allergic). Sometimes its simply a matter of deciding that the action is necessary, and taking it.
    I don't believe in the rule of three, in any sense. I do believe that our mindset, be it positive or negative, effects our life, and that how we treat other people directly effects how other people, in a very general sense, treat us (ie if you are nice to people they are usually nice to you, if you are jerk they are generally a jerk in return). But life experience has shown me that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people all the time. And that's not even getting into the stickety-wicket of who decides what is "good" and "bad" to begin with....
   I have hexed. I have done bindings and banishings. I deal with spirits, both on friendly terms and commanding them (usually to leave a place). I am very pragmatic in my magic; I do what needs doing. And there has never been any terrible consequence to me from anything I have done (although I will add here that I am very careful and I know what I am doing). The greatest consequence I have faced is the judgment and censure from some people within the pagan community for being open about the sort of witch that I am. 

   I think, sometimes, that paganism has spent so many decades trying to convince the rest of the world that we are all harmless and safe that anytime someone comes along and says, "No if it needs doing I'll do it, even if its sad or unpleasant or hard" there is an automatic response of immediately rejecting that idea. We don't want to own the dark witch anymore, or we want to make it a clear cut matter of "good/light" and "bad/dark". We have bought into our own PR and we want our witchcraft safe and nice and palatable for the masses of non-pagans. We don't want the dark and scary as a serious practice, only as a sort of juvenile "phase" that we say people will grow out of or as a side-show all-flash-no-substance joke. Its not easy to break out of that mindset, as a community. Heck it was hard for me. Everyone wants to be the hero in the story, not the pragmatist.
   There are all sorts of witches in the world and that's exactly as it should be. We need the variety. Some are very gentle. Some are very loving. Some are very peaceful. Some are all of that but if their back is against a wall they will defend themselves.
   I am not that sort.
    I was told once, in a visionary experience, that I needed to own the idea of being a badb, a bantúaithech, for lack of a better translation an "old school witch". Someone who isn't afraid of doing what needs doing. Who can heal or hex without hesitation. Who isn't afraid to go where other people truly do fear to tread. Who owns their own darkness and understands the balance that is needed between dark and light to preserve Firinne (truth/right order). The word badb itself when applied to a human means a witch of the dark and dangerous sort, the kind who shows up and gives an ill prophecy and then works magic to ensure it happens. A cursing-witch. The word bantúaithech* is related to the word túaithe and
 has strong negative connotations, being related to túaithbel meaning lefthand-wise, against the sun, to cursing, of working against the positive, and is also related through túath to the aos sidhe who witches were reputed to deal with and get much of their skill and knowledge from. So a badb or bantúaithech is a witch who works against the sun and who deals with the fairy folk, who curses and prophesies.
This was not a message I wanted to hear, nor one I was quick to embrace.
    I really didn't want to be that person.
    Because there is a comfort in acceptance. There is a comfort in staying weak, and avoiding confrontation, and letting other people handle the messy work. There is a comfort in being able to say "I am harmless and good and only ever help everyone".
     But you can't fight dán and a raven can't be a robin no matter how much it wishes it was.
So I have spent a lot of time learning to be a bantuaithech, an old school witch, and learning that you can still be kind and gentle even when you are the one who knows how to hex and does it when it needs doing. Learning that you can still be nice even when you are the one who isn't afraid to walk straight into the darkness and handle what you find there, and you are the one who does the things that generally seem to horrify so many other people. I had to learn that all those frightening connotations with the words badb and bantúaithech nonetheless represent the preservation of right-order, of fírinne - the dark witch doesn't curse for fun or maliciousness but in the myths and stories she does so to bring back order when there is a great imbalance. She uses her own power to correct imbalances, often by bringing down important people - often kings or heroes -  who have abused their power or greatly transgressed the social order. She is not a bad person but she is the one who must do the dirty work in the stories in order to bring back balance. I had to learn not to fear using power when it needed to be used, especially in situations where those who were otherwise powerless needed to have someone act for them. I learned, ultimately that sometimes the only way to preserve right-order is to go against it for a time.
    I am that sort of witch, but it doesn't make me a bad person - if anything it has made me a better person because I understand the fear, and anger, and hatred that far too often drive other people.
I embrace the darkness because I don't see it as frightening or dangerous, just as beautiful and empowering. I can empathize with suffering and being broken because I have been there. I appreciate the importance of being good and kind because I am so aware of the reality of the other side of that. I am kind not because I fear the consequences of not being kind - I don't - but because I know the value of kindness for its own sake. 
......but like Al Capone said: "Don't mistake my kindness for weakness. I am kind to everyone, but when someone is unkind to me, weak is not what you are going to remember about me."

*I've discussed in previous blogs that I am both a witch and a Druid. I see the first as a personal practice, a skill, and the second as a role within the community. In my life they provide balance and dovetail nicely with each other, and both work within my Irish Reconstructionist Polytheism.
* okay that's a bit of hyperbole on my part, but its complicated. I've blogged about it previously here
* - I am editing this to clarify a point: the word bantúaithech is Old Irish and is the word used in the myths to describe female magic users, generally translated as "witch". Be Chullie and Dianann are referred to this way in the Cath Maige Tuired when Lugh asks what power they will bring to the fight (they promise to enchant the trees and stones and earth to appear as a great army by the way), and a further list of ten women of the Tuatha De Danann is given and described this way in the Banshenchus. The word, however, did not survive into modern Irish. There is a similar term, tuathánach, which means rustic or country dweller and tuathbheartach means evil-doing. Interestingly túathgeinte, meaning the Good Folk did survive as tuathghinte in modern Irish. Similarly badb, meaning a witch, is Old or middle Irish; in modern Irish babdbh when applied to a human means a scold and only has vague connotations of cursing.