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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.