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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bealtaine and the Other Crowd

"Being associated with a ceann féile (cheif festival), May Eve and May Day were supposed to be times of greater than usual activity among supernatural beings, Every lios ("fairy fort") in Ireland was said to be opened that night, and their inhabitants moved abroad in great numbers, often changing residence at that time."
- Seán Ó Súilleabháin, 'Nósanna agus Piseoga na nGael'

Hawthorn in the spring rain

   Bealtaine has many different themes and associations in folklore but one of the strongest is the idea of the presence of supernatural beings being particularly strong at this time. For example one belief was that on Bealtaine day it was wise not to lend out any milk, butter, or a coal from the fire, especially to a stranger, lest the person be one of the Good Folk in disguise and steal the family's luck for the year (Wilde, 1888; Evans, 1957). A household's luck was intrinsically tied to the items which symbolized it - milk, butter, and fire - and to be tricked into giving any of these to dangerous powers including witches or the Fair Folk was to voluntarily give them power over you; to do this particularly on Bealtaine when spirits of all kinds were abroad and their powers especially strong was the height of foolishness.

    As the quote above illustrates every sí was believed to open and the inhabitants to travel out across the land, a process which was repeated as well at Samhain. Bealtaine was also the time when babies and young brides were most likely to be taken and a person had to take great care when travelling, especially alone. Although today many people might think of Samhain as the most dangerous liminal time, in truth Bealtaine was equally dangerous and liminal. At other times of the year a person might still run the risk of running afoul of the Fair Folk - or if one was lucky and clever of earning their blessing - but at the turning points like Bealtaine every single one of my references all mention the ubiquitous presence of the Other Crowd, to the point that it was almost expected to see or experience something Otherworldly. To quote Danaher:

    "Supernatural beings were more than usually active about May Day, and the appearance of a travelling band of fairies, of a mermaid, a púca or a headless coach might, indeed, cause unease or alarm but certainly would occasion no surprise, as such manifestations were only to be expected at this time." (Danaher, 1972, p121)

    There were two main, and possibly interlinked approaches to dealing with the Daoine Eile on May Day. In the old days - and perhaps still in some places - it was traditional to make offerings on May Day morning of milk poured at the base of a fairy thorn or on the threshold of the house, and to take the cows to the sí and bleed them, with some of the blood tasted by the people and the rest given as an offering to the Daoine Uaisle (Evans, 1957). I personally try to avoid making blood offerings during most of the year, but some exceptions may occur on the major holy days, and we see a precedent in both Irish and Norse belief of offering such to the aos sí or elben respectively*. Any offering of food or drink, left on the doorstep of the house or at any known Fairy place, whether its a lone fairy tree or fort, was also done and was thought to convey some protection on the person (Danaher, 1972). I would also suggest that offerings of butter, bread, or cakes would be in line with tradition and acceptable. Offerings are an important part of creating a positive reciprocal relationship with the powers of the Otherworld. One might note that there is an important difference between being tricked into giving milk or butter without intent and giving the same things purposely as gifts; to be tricked is to lose your power but to give a gift freely is to show respect and hopefully create an amicable relationship.

   Protections against harm from the Other Crowd included primrose and gorse scattered on the doorstep, and Rowan branches hung over the doorway (Evans, 1957). Yarrow was hung in the home to ward off illness, and a loop of ash might be used to protect a person against Themselves; it was also said looking through the loop would allow someone to see them even through glamour (Evans, 1957; Danaher, 1972). Iron should be carried, ideally a black handled iron knife, or else ashes from the hearth fire, and if one is being misled or tormented by the Good People one could turn their jacket inside out to confuse them or in more dire circumstances they could splash urine on their hands and face* (Danaher, 1972). Of course the most commonly used protection may simply be staying inside and avoiding any chance encounters.

    At Bealtaine some people say that the veil between the worlds is thinner; I disagree. I think that at Bealtaine and Samhain both it is not that the separation between the worlds is any different but the amount of presence in our world is notably higher for those who are aware of such things. So be sure to pour out a little milk or cream for the Good People and if you are out and about carry a bit of salt or iron in your pocket, and hang a bit of rowan with red thread over your doorway.

   And don't be surprised if you see something uncanny.

*In Grimm's Teutonic Mythology he discusses the practice of offering a cow to the elves as part of an alfablot

*The Good People detest filth and things like dirty wash water and urine are known to disgust them, and so act as protections against them.

Ó Súilleabháin, S., (1967). Nósanna agus Piseoga na nGael
Wilde, E., (1888) Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions
Evans, E., (1957). Irish Folk Ways
Danaher, K., (1972) The Year in Ireland

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Following Personal Gnosis

   I write a lot on my blogs and various other places about a more academic view of my spirituality - facts, myths, translations. Hard, verifiable, provable things. Sometimes I think this may lead people to think I don't get as much into the experiential side of things although I do try to write about that as well - its just harder to talk about the more personal end of things. In reality personal gnosis is a huge factor in my spiritual life, but because it is so personal it doesn't lend itself to sharing much. Its hard to discuss a personal experience without reducing it to something that sounds silly or opening it to skeptical review.

    Gnosis is of course a pretty big topic in paganism, something that is both often misunderstood and just as often misused. The word gnosis itself just means spiritual knowledge, usually with the understanding that its knowledge obtained through direct experience or insight. What may perhaps otherwise be termed an epiphany, although in my experience it is also knowledge often gained directly from Gods and spirits. Gnosis is often shorthanded in the modern community to u.p.g. meaning unverified or unsubstantiated personal gnosis but honestly I prefer to just call it personal gnosis, because how can we verify that Freya likes strawberries or the Morrigan likes whiskey? Certainly - and this is the usual view - we can rely on seeing if this gnosis is shared by other community members and how widely (becoming then shared personal gnosis or s.p.g.) but the flaw there is that - in my opinion - the vast majority of gnosis is never meant to be shared. Certainly some of it is and should be (as the above examples are) but much of the 'knowing' we get in our spirituality is personal for a reason I think.
  I'm keenly aware that much of what I perceive as personal gnosis is just that - personal. It is something that applies to me in the specific context that it occured in but it may not be relatable at all to anyone else. And you know what? That's okay. Personal gnosis doesn't require validation on a public level. If I feel that something is true to me then I may not need anyone else to share that belief for it to be true to me. Just because I believe it doesn't mean you have to believe it too.
     And this is where I believe that gnosis is misused in the community because I often see people taking what is, to me, clearly meant to be insight for themselves and then projecting that outwards as a general belief for everyone. Sometimes this works out okay, but sometimes it doesn't, because there may be a good reason that a deity or spirit tells someone to do something a certain way that is only meant to apply to that person, but not to others. Or why someone perceives a deity in a certain unusual way that is meant to be unique to them. It becomes a matter of 'I believe this so everyone else must believe it too', and good rarely comes from that.
   The other issue with gnosis is whether or not to accept it at all and this is also a sticky wicket. Some people reject all gnosis entirely but that's no better than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. On the other hand though there are people who accept absolutely every notion that goes through their head as if it were sacred writ, and that isn't any better. either extreme - total rejection or total acceptance - is ignoring the importance of discernment and I think discernment is absolutely vital in spiritual matters. Sometimes a dream is just our subconscious trying to work a problem out - or as Scrooge would have it 'an undigested bit of beef' - and it would be an error to take every dream as a deeply significant message. However that doesn't mean that some dreams aren't messages or communications from spirits; land spirits and deities are well known in folklore and myth to talk to people in dreams and I don't think that should be discounted. In the same way when we use methods like meditation and Journeywork there is always the possibility that we are interacting with our own mind, but there is also the possibility of genuine connection and gnosis. The key is to learn how to tell when we are talking to ourselves and when Something Else is talking to us.
  My basic rules when it comes to personal gnosis:
  1. Is it something I would tell myself? - basically does it sound like me talking to myself: is it in words I would use, is it something I have said to myself before, does it reinforce something I already believe.
 2. Is it exactly what I want to hear? - is it a message that is what I would expect to hear or want to hear? Basically if I was daydreaming is this how I would imagine this going? Not that the gods and spirits can't give us messages that we want sometimes but in my experience often we don't get exactly what we expect or would like. Much like in dealing with other people the experience shouldn't feel like its in our control. To use a personal example that illustrates - I hope - my point: I had suspected a certain connection between myself and something else for a long time without any real reason for thinking that way but I had always hoped I was wrong (personal reasons) but recently had my suspicion confirmed in a personal gnosis moment. Part of why I trusted it was that it wasn't really something I wanted to hear.
  3. Can it be independently verified? - some gnosis is unprovable and as I mentioned that's fine when it's personal. I'm firmly convinced Nuada likes offerings of Gentlemen Jack, but there's no empirical proof of it. However I have had gnosis before that provided knowledge which was verifiable. I've had several dreams involving the herb yarrow, for example: once I was told a way to prepare it to use it as a cleanser, and when I checked later I found out that yarrow does indeed have anti-bacterial properties*; I also had a dream relating to yarrow as a symbol of fidelity in love which was later verified in folk tradition as well. So I recommend always checking what you get to see if it can be verified.
  4. Does it contradict known folklore or mythology? - I'd be really cautious of anything I get that actively goes against existing folklore. This requires a lot of questioning and extra checking.
  5. Is it dangerous or does it encourage dangerous behaviour? - I'd also be really, really cautious of personal gnosis that is harmful to you or encourages harm to you or others. Spiritual insight should *not* be actively dangerous to life and limb.
  Beyond those basic guidelines I see personal gnosis as a set of personal beliefs and knowledge which may or may not be shared but that should, ultimately, shape the person's spirituality in positive ways. It is, you might say, the bones of our spirituality. Vitally important and deeply personal, and unique to each of us.
  . *with anything related to herbs do not play around with them please. Consult an herbalist.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wishes - a poem about fairies

  This was inspired by two things - a story called 'A Guide for Young Ladies Entering the Service of the Fairies' and a poem by my friend Jennifer Lawrence called 'Tam Lin's Garden'. Both are brilliant pieces of writing and you should read them immediately.

   People talk about wishes now as if they were cheap things
   Spending their desire on casual words and wants that are
   lost between one thought and the next, forgetting that
   Words are things with weight and power, not to be wasted.
   People talk about wishing they could see fairies, as if
   Fairies were beings that exist to serve people, forgetting,
   Oh, forgetting a hundred lifetime's worth of wisdom
   Warning them not to play lightly with their own destruction.
   I would warn them as well, if I could - or perhaps not,
   for what fun is there in a game with no one to play with?
   Eternity is a long time to be bored when your playthings
   Stop playing, and its hard enough when they break so easily.
   Then again, what fun is there without the chase and seduction?
   When they trip over themselves in eagerness to fall into
   My hands, thinking all their wishing has finally paid off,
   And I need no more effort than showing up with a smile?
   Not much of a game that, when once they've promised,
   Once they've misspoken and given themselves up to me,
   The only fun left is the same struggle and slow breaking
   That's been played out so many times before, without change.
   Perhaps I would warn them after all, if they'd listen,
   Perhaps I'd remind them of all the old fear and caution,
   Of babies and brides stolen, of a hint of music that haunts,
   Of their place feeding a variety of appetites, some quite bloody.
   Perhaps I'd tell them of how there is no winning for them
   Once entangled, whether its by the dark or the light
   Because its a choice of suffering to amuse those who can't
   Be pleased, or endless, nameless dull service to the same.
   If I did they'd be wary, and watch their words, and hide,
   They would think, being wise to the truth, they had a chance,
   It's a grand game then, when the mouse gives the cat
   A good run, and I much prefer having to be a clever cat.
   I don't suppose it matters much in the end though, either way,
   One way or another the great game will keep playing out,
   As always, they will keep wishing for things dire and foolish
   And if luck is against them, their wish will be answered.
     - M. Daimler 2016

Friday, April 15, 2016

Cétnad nAíse ~ Poem of Restoration

Doing this one a bit differently - going to alternate the lines instead of doing separate text.
I hope you enjoy it. 

Cétnad nAíse ~ Poem of Restoration

Ad-muiniur secht n-ingena trethan 

I invoke the seven daughters of the stormy sea
dolbtae snáithi macc n-áesmar. 
shaping life's thread from boyhood to age
Tri bás flaimm ro-ucaiter, 
Three deaths be taken from me
tri áes dom do-rataiter
Three ages be given to me
secht tonna tocaid dom do-ra-dáilter! 
Seven waves of good fortune dispense to me!
Ním chollet messe fom chúairt 
No harm to me on my circuit
i llúrig lasréin cen léiniud! 
in flashing corslet without hindering!
Ní nassar mo chlú ar chel! 
Not light is my reputation before heaven!
To me these ages
nim thi bás comba sen!
May I not die until old age
Ad-muiniur m’Argetnia 
I invoke my Silver warrior
nád bá nád bebe; 
who did not die and will not die
amser dom do-r-indnastar 
Deliver to me time
findruini febe!
of excellent electrum*!
Ro orthar mo richt,
Chanting my form,
ro saerthar mo recht
Ennobling my authority,
ro mórthar mo nert
Magnified my strength,
nip ellam mo lecht
Not readied my grave,
nim thí bás for fecht, 
May I not die on a journey,
ro firthar mo thecht! 
My death fulfilled!
Ním ragba nathair díchonn, 
May a foolish serpent not overtake me,
ná dorb dúrglass, 
Nor a hard-green worm,
ná doel díchuinn! 
Nor a senseless beetle!
Ním millither téol, 
May no theft destroy me
ná cuire ban, 
Nor host of women
ná cuire buiden! 
Nor host of warriors!
Dom-i urchar n-aimsire 
To me extensions of time
ó Rig inna n-uile!
From the King of everything!
Ad-muiniur Senach sechtaimserach 
I invoke Senach of seven-durations
con-altatar mná side
Who was reared by Fairy women
far bruinnib bdais
on their breasts.
Ní báitter mo shechtchaindel! 
May my seven lights not be submerged!
Am dun díthagail, 
I am an indestructable fort,
am all anscuichthe, 
I am an immovable foundation,
am ha lógmar
I am that treasure
am sen sechtmainech
I am seven-times-valuable compensation
Roba chétach 
May I be possessing a hundred
hundred years
cach cét diib ar úair.
Every hundred from each hour.
Cota-gaur cucum mo lessa;
I sue towards me my advantage
ro bé rath in Spiurta Noíb formsa.
May the grace of the Holy Spirit be on me
Domini est salus.
The Lord is salvation
Christis est salus.
Christ is salvation
Super populum tuum, Domine, benedictio tua.
On your people, Lord, your blessing

 *electrum is a metal alloy of gold and silver

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

the Nature of the Gods: how I define Deithe and an-deithe

The subject comes up occasionally - what makes a God a God?

It's a good question, really, especially if you haven't thought about it before. I'm pretty strongly against the idea of omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience - basically all the omni's usually attributed to monotheistic deities - as qualities of individual deities. There's just a level of cynicism in me that finds it impossible to to believe that anything that, well, grand for lack of a better term could or would have any interest in me on an individual level and my own experience does support the idea that we matter to the Gods and spirits in some way. I do believe there is some grand transcendent divine consciousness that holds everything together, beyond even my understanding of the individual Gods but I do doubt that such a thing would be any more aware of individual beings as I am of the single cells in my body or of the separate grains of sand in a desert. If there is such a grand divinity I would think it is so vast and beyond our ability to comprehend that it would effectively be almost impossible to connect to or engage with. Rather I think, perhaps, that this grandness is the spirit of our reality itself*.

Which is where the individual Gods come in. Whether or not we accept that there is a larger grand divinity - and I don't know that it matters whether we do or not - I do believe that there is a hierarchy of Gods and spirits that we can perceive and interact with. I base this concept on my own personal observations and experiences, so I won't claim that its some sort of universal truth or spiritual absolute, but its an approach that works for me. I like to use the concept of a hierarchy because I find that is basically how it works with the beings at the highest level having both the most power and the least interest in humanity and those at the lower levels having the least influence and the most interest in humanity.

At the highest level we have the most powerful spirits, beings that for simplicity's sake we call Gods**.  Gods have the greatest and most pervasive degree of influence over the widest areas, and the fewest limits on their actions and influence. I have seen Gods take an active interest in individuals for both good and ill, and I think it is always unwise to forget the level of power a deity is operating with. There is a range, of course, from an upper end of extremely powerful to a lower end of still-a-god but not as powerful. Gods also, again in my opinion, have the greatest scope of knowledge both of current events and of things yet to come. Why do Gods have an interest in individual people? Well that's going to vary by each person, but ultimately the Gods have their own purpose and agenda, and sometimes they need us to forward that. They work on a scope and scale that is so vast it can be hard sometimes for us to understand the why - although sometimes its pretty obvious. They need us, and we need them, on different levels.

Besides the Gods there are also a wide array of spirits, including those who are almost Gods themselves to those who are almost on the same level as humans, and those below us (influence-wise). Many of the Good Neighbors can be just below the Gods as far as influence and power goes, which is part - I think - of why they have always been so respected and feared. Others however are much closer to us and less dangerous to us. And if you take, for example, a spirit like most ancestors or human ghosts, they are very close to us indeed influence wise and while they can and do help us and provide us with information they usually aren't a significant threat to us unless something unusual is going on (or unless it is an ancestral spirit that has been or is being elevated to a higher level, which is possible - nothing is fixed, everything is fluid). The closer a spirit is to us the more logical it is for that spirit to want to help us or to need our energy.

All of this is of course very loose and there is a lot of grey areas. What I might call a God someone else might call a fairy and neither of us would necessarily be wrong. And I do believe that there is the potential for movement both up and down in this system, so that an ancestor who is honored and prayed to by enough people over enough time can become a deity and a deity who is forgotten and ignored for long enough can lose power. Much like so many other areas of life nothing is set in stone; rather our relationship with the Gods an spirits is a symbiotic one where both sides benefit. I'd also argue that ultimately it really doesn't matter whether what you are connecting to is a god, per se, or a powerful spirit, or one of the daoine maithe, if it does benefit you to have that connection.

*as an animist I believe that all, or almost all, things have spirits, including the world itself, and the solar system, and so on. When I sat down to contemplate this article I had to carry that idea outwards and admit that it is possible that there is, ultimately, a spirit of the manifest universe which could be viewed or perceived as the divine source. Whether or not other realities have their own such spirit I could not say.

**there really is not good definition for god or deity that isn't just circular logic. For my purposes I tend to define 'deity' as extremely powerful being who can influence all levels of reality to the greatest degree; following along with that however not-Gods or 'spirits' are beings with lesser degrees of influence.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Translation: the Klostrneuburg Incantation

1. Cris finnáin dumimdegail imum imacuáirt.
nar amtairthea innsét timcellas intuáith
2. Raucthi láin induleán mubrond.
lurech dé dumimdegail otamind gombond.
3. Cris fimieain muchris argalar arches
aruptaib banm*beth (+) afraech adamles.
4. Cris eoin muchris ralég súidi n*glan.
daid ferga fer soid upta m*ban.
5. Cris nathrach muchris nathair imátá
náramgonat fir naramillet mná.
6. durennaib romóra fomóir imátá
7. Fobrut muridam fosarabi inrí.
fotrochlanib fochochlan mubí.
8. Mucholmoc ramcharastar arfégad arfis.
isairai ramcharastar uair istend mochris.

Re-written with words separated out:
1. Cris finnáin dum im degail imum imacuáirt.
nar amtairthea inn sét timcellas in tuáith
2. Rauc thi láin indu leán mu brond.
lurech dé dum im degail ota mind go mbond.
3. Cris fi mi eain mu chris ar galar ar ches
a ruptaib ban mbeth ocus a fraech a damles.
4. Cris eoin mu chris ralég súidi nglan.
daid ferga fer soid upta mban.
5. Cris nathrach mu chris nathair im átá
náramgonat fir naramillet mná.
6. durennaib romóra fomóir im átá
7. Fo brut muri dam fo sara bi in rí.
fotrochlanib fo chochlan mu bí.
8. Mu cholmoc ram charastar ar fégad ar fis.
isa irai ramcharastar uair istend mo chris.


Protection of Finnan's belt around me encircling
I shall not be seized on the road going around the country
Completely encirlces my defenseless belly

God's corslet to me protection around me from head to foot
Belt of my poisonous birds, my belt for sickness, for debility
From slaying of fair life and from fury, from loss
A bird belt, my belt exactly placed it is 
For wrathful men, defeats magic of women
Serpent belt, my belt of snakes it is around me

It wounds men, it destroys women.
Fortitude of the great Fomorians is around me
Beneath an abundant cloak, for me an excellent surety fit for a king

Released beneath my little hood my face
My Colmoc has love for me, because of seeing it, knowing it
It is instigating this loving because of the strength of my belt

Old Irish from

Source there listed as -
Ebel, Hermann. Grammatica Celtica. ed. Johann Kaspar. Berlin, 1871.

Friday, April 1, 2016

words for Fool in Old Irish

I can't stand April Fool's Day, but in the spirit of the holiday (no joke) I thought I'd do a fun short post on the different words for fool in Old Irish and their contexts. Much like my previous blog about the word 'witch', saying fool in Old Irish isn't a straightforward matter because there are a variety of options each with different nuances.
   First we have the words which are used for people with diminished mental capacity - equivalent in English to simpleton or halfwit: amal, amlán/amalán (literally 'little amal'), or ammatán, buicell (but can also be a type of satirist), buicne, cáeptha, óinmit^
  Then we have the legal terms, used to describe mental incompetence: báeth (also used for people lacking morals, implying animalistic behavior), fer lethcuind (halfwit), druith (imbecile)
  Entertainingly there is also a  term for a fool that is also a word for a young cow: báethán
  Straightforward words meaning foolish, unwise people: ainecnae, báethlach (clearly related to the similar legal term, implies boorish behavior), díuit, duí, meile, meraige (someone who is feckless or flaky), óinsech (particularly a foolish woman), tibre (of the sort being mocked by others),
  Professional fools, ie jesters (drúth* is the overall name for this type of fool): boibre, bocmell, buicell, óinmit^, rindainech,

^óinmit is a bit of a special case. It is used to refer to someone who is simple minded but also could be clever in certain regards - what we might call an idiot savant. It is thus also a term for one of the prefessional grades of jesters
*Drúth is a complicated word meaning a variety of contradictory things including a professional jester, imbecile, prostitute, and later confused - probably as a homynym - with druí