The fire crackled and hissed, as life escaped from sticks and seeped from turf that had lain long idle in watery bogs. Each new noise made him jump a little, each spark that fell seemed fascinating to a mind that hungered to focus on something, attend to anything but the blank white page before him.
There was no sound from outside the cottage though, at this hour even the night creatures usually heard shuffling along on their business were abed. He had sat through the long, empty darkness all alone, again, since he had banished her from the house. He couldn’t have accepted what she had to offer. The price was too high, the cost too great to bear. Many had warned him through long years of training, of the possibility that she might appear. Or one like her, for there were many who sought the likes of him in this land, many who would pull and call and tempt and offer the worlds to a poet’s soul. His Masters had gone through it with each apprentice, and when it came his time to teach he had issued the same dire warnings, extolled the same ghastly consequences.
Out of the mounds they came, the Leanán Sidhe. Fairy Lovers: bright was their light, their gifts, their love. Strong burned the creative fires that they stoked and tended in a poet’s soul; his musical, magical, poetic inspiration, but with the gifts were balanced the ties that bind, for once a Fairy Lover gained entry to a man’s body and soul, she did not ever give them back. Their love was a deadly delight.
She had come to him first on a night just like this. A fire burning in the hearth of his small cottage on the hillside, a long and lonely night awash in the void of mundanity, with not a trickle or a spark of creative inspiration to be found. The gentle tap tap tapping on a window, thought at first to be a branch or twig, but persistent enough to breach the miasma surrounding his heavy head. When he opened the door, she stood a little out of the light that spilled into the night, back from the threshold, and she spoke to him quickly, offering all the things they had said she would, in a voice as soft as the velvet nub on a new calf’s horns. He listened, and was tempted, and resisted; refusing to invite her inside, refusing to accept the offers… but knowing that his refusal bound her to him as surely as he would be bound to her if he had accepted.
That was three moons ago now, and she had never left.
Constantly calling, she haunted his dreams, and shadowed the windows of his house as she circled each night. Her voice came to him awake or asleep, whispering dreams when he had no defences, tapping at his attention when he would try and concentrate, or create. Useless, pointless exercises that served no purpose other than to frustrate him. She stayed beyond his reach, impossible to banish, although the Rowan and cold iron charm his old Master had recommended for the threshold served the purpose of ensuring that she could not cross, no matter the weakened state she found him in. He was safe inside.
As he stared again at the plain white sheet that signalled his failure, his lack of resource, he realised that he’d had enough. In a dream, he rose from the table in the centre of his room, and walked to pull open the door. Reaching up, he ripped the charm from the lintel, raised his arm, and threw his protection out into the blackness beyond. Then he waited.
When she came, it was with a sigh of silk that instantly calmed his mind and balmed his spirit. His eyes drank her beauty, as she touched his flesh and entered his home. She would drink of his love, and give in return, and his pages would fill with bounty… until she took all that he was.
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Silent, hooded, darkened countenance
shifting, muted, inescapably There.
Unknowable, terrible, hidden
She is Everything and Nothing.
Weapons of truth, Imperative
Thrusting knowledge and awareness
All that we must leave behind
All that we must discover
Darkness and Strength
Power and Insight
Fear and Finding
Connected, terrified, thrilled
Facing the Great Queen
Back into her own,
Lora O’Brien, Roscommon, Bealtaine 2004.
Early Irish law was based on decisions made by the Gaelic Brehons, learned men and women of old Irish society who took on the responsibilities of the Judge.
It was an oral tradition, but the rulings were recorded by later Christian monks and priests, and so we have surviving Brehon Law manuscripts from the 700s.
The system remained in use despite many changes through Irish history, with native laws only specifically banned by the English in 1600.
The Brehons called their laws Fenechas – the law of the freemen of Gaelic Ireland, and it was a civil (not criminal) code which focused on payment of compensation for harm done, rather than punishment. Irish trees were revered and protected as an essential part of each community, and recognised as both sacred and valuable.
A text called Bretha Comaithchesa, which means ‘judgements of neighbourhood’, specifically regulated how Irish society dealt with harm done to trees. Damage to an especially valuable tree such as an oak or yew was a more serious offence than to a less prized tree, so 28 principal trees and shrubs are divided into four classes, with different rules applied to each group.
The most valuable and noble are the airig fedo – ‘lords of the wood’.
Then the aithig fhedo – ‘commoners of the wood’.
The fodla fedo are the ‘lower divisions of the wood’.
And least valuable are the losa fedo – ‘bushes of the wood’.
Let’s take for an example the mighty Oak. A mature Irish Oak (Quercus Robur) can live for more than 500 years, and grow 130ft tall. One of these trees supports over 250 species of insect, and over 300 different types of lichen, which form the food chain for a multitude of birds. Oaks grow acorns, a feast for many wild creatures, who can also make a home in the tree – whether they’re nesting in branches or curling up at the roots. Humans also benefit greatly from each and every tree, so it’s no wonder the oak is known as the ‘king of the woods’. In Irish it’s called dair, and shares a root with the word for magic and druid – draoí. The practical value of the oak in Brehon Law is said to be “its acorns and its use for woodwork”; the acorn crop was particularly useful for fattening pigs, while oak-timber is the finest for fences and buildings.
Tree energy is unique and incredibly healing. Trees can help humans to:
First, find one that’s physically convenient to you – in your garden or where you work maybe? You’ll want to build a relationship, so the occasional flying visit will not do. Go and look at it, really look at it. Stand back and take in its overall form and growth habit. See how the leaves are shaped, the patterns they form on stem or branch – notice every part of it.
Feel the sphere of energy, or aura, around the tree. It is formed in circles, and can be quite large; the outer ring will match roughly with the overall spread of branch and root. Step up to, then inside the energy circle. If you move slowly and close your eyes you’ll feel a slight push, a feint resistance as you step through, and again through each interior ring as you make your way to the trunk.
Find a comfortable spot and stand or sit with your back leaning against the tree. Sense how you are safe inside its energy circle. Take off your shoes and touch the earth beneath your feet. Put your hands to the bark of the tree, or flat on the soil beneath it, and let energy flow from the crown of your head, down your spine, and out of your body, down into the earth.
Allow your body to refill with fresh energy as you breathe air into your lungs, and pull the tree’s healing power through the top of your head and down into the centre of yourself. Let it circle and flow through you. Spend some time; see what thoughts come to mind.
When you feel refreshed, step away and thank the tree for the connection that day.
Visit the tree again soon!
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For a decade, I guided at and professionally managed a major Irish spiritual/sacred site; a vast archaeological complex of sites actually, with a ceremonial history stretching back as long as there have been people on this island. I started as a part time tour guide there, many moons ago, and I’m still requested to guide many of the ‘Spiritual Tourism’ groups and individuals who visit Rathcroghan.
There’s two sides to the ethical issue around all this.
First: my own boundaries and guidelines. Spiritual guardianship of these sites is very much a part of the ‘work’ I do for my matron deity here (that would be the Mórrígan), right along with the instruction to “get real information out there”. I have a very personal deep down connection to this place, to these energies, stories, and gods… so it’d be very tough for me to coldly take cash and pimp out my paganism to gullible groups. On the other hand, there are so many genuine seekers coming here, more each year, and if I’m not helping them find a genuine experience, somebody else will.
So, I have to walk a very careful line between giving too much of my personal spiritual self to strangers, and supporting them in their journey, as is my job (both everyday mundane, and in a priestess capacity).
Second: there’s the community I work in. The Visitor Centre I managed there is a local community initiative, with a voluntary board of directors, and it’s often tough for them to understand all the facets of the spiritual side of our business. ‘Spiritual tourism’ is still a fast growing sector, with the highest spend per visitor of any other special interest group, so they can see the practical side to marketing this aspect carefully and responsibly. However, when I ever held spiritual events there, or featured in the media for this market, there was – every time – a local kerfuffle in the community with regard to the “witch that runs the centre”, or for example after our international ‘Goddess Gathering’ on year, I had to deal with open hostility from a particularly short sighted, narrow minded, ignorant fool of a local politician – because I “brought witches to the village”. The fact that the available accommodation was booked out 3 towns over, and the pubs did a roaring trade all weekend, was apparently less important to him than that.
Petty politics aside – there’s a balance to be kept there too, this is after all their place more than mine, and without community support and involvement we’re at nothing. Money talks, as they say, so it’s been up to me during my professional career to make the case for commercial and economic benefit in supporting the spiritual tourism market.
It’s not been easy, I must admit, but my attitude – both personally and professionally – has always been to make the case openly that Paganism is not wrong, or indeed even very different to the Ireland of not so long ago, and to be an open door as far as people’s questions or concerns need to be addressed. We’re not doing anything wrong here, quite the opposite in fact… and slowly, slowly, the Irish communities are changing.
All of that shifts and changes dramatically when you introduce spiritual tourism which does not consider the native community or landscape, does not support or integrate the local thoughts and experience, and in fact is merely there to add an air of false authenticity to their cultural appropriation and commercialised, shallow nonsense.
This stuff is complicated, and sensitivity to the indigenous climate and community concerns is essential. If you’re coming on a tour to Ireland, please choose your operator carefully. Question them before you give them your money, on how much is going to support the native guides, resources and communities from which they are profiting.
Don’t be involved in the pillaging of native energies or resources.
That’s not very fucking spiritual now is it?!
That’s true like, it is a song I heard as a kid, they taught it to us in primary school, so we would have sung it from about the age of 5 or 6 years old.
Seriously, stop that shit, I can feel you judging me.
And I had a complete throwback when the Weile Weile Waile song came on. Ronny Drew’s kinda cheery sounding Dublin rasp, and the banjo player plucking away in the background… and I was right back in the midst of the childhood incomprehension of trying to figure out what the hell was going on when I heard the song for the first time. See for yourselves.
There was an old woman and she lived in the woods, weile weile waile.
There was an old woman and she lived in the woods, down by the river Saile.
She had a baby three months old, weile weile waile.
She had a baby three months old, down by the river Saile.
She had a penknife, long and sharp, weile weile waile.
She had a penknife, long and sharp, down by the river Saile.
She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart, weile weile waile.
She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart, down by the river Saile.
There were three loud knocks come a’knocking on the door, weile weile waile.
There were three loud knocks come a’knocking on the door, down by the river Saile.
There were two policemen and a man, weile weile waile.
There were two policemen and a man, down by the river Saile.
They took her away and they put her in the jail, weile weile waile.
They took her away and they put her in the jail, down by the river Saile.
They put a rope around her neck, weile weile waile.
They put a rope around her neck, down by the river Saile.
They pulled the rope and she got hung, weile weile waile.
They pulled the rope and she got hung, down by the river Saile.
And that was the end of the woman in the woods, weile weile waile.
And that was the end of the baby too, down by the river Saile.
So, what are they about?
Besides the obvious like, I know it’s about a woman killing her baby. I mean though, why would people sing about such gruesome acts? Is it a version of ‘warning about the boogeyman’; a mother killing her child as the most frightening thing possible, used to scare kids into line?
Is it, as my friend Janet suggested, a social commentary on post-natal depression? Or a warning method for new parents, a way of passing information on things to watch out for when you have a new baby, without having to discuss it?
Or do kids (humans) just love being gross and frightening each other?
Communication from Frater Docet Umbra, 2012
This article first appeared in the Journal of the Irish Order of Thelema, ‘Fortified Island’, Issue #1, in March 2013.
I started through the Man of Earth initiation cycle as a personal journey, a challenge to myself that is one in a long series of such challenges. A lifetime’s worth, or more, one might say. I came from a firm family grounding in Irish heritage and nature exploration, exceedingly boring to the child I was, but ever appreciated since. From personal Gnosis in my teens, I found training and connection in a Traditional Wiccan coven, working through their triple degree system and learning a whole lot. Moving from there I found myself in Roscommon. Not quite knowing how or why that had happened, I set to explore, and found I had landed in Cruachan. Ancient Royal Capital, perhaps one of the first sites in Ireland of consistent ritual and ceremonial use.
Connection to the land became about more than just local entities and legends, as I had previously experienced. A small group, just four of us, remained of our previous working group, and we were three intensely dedicated sisters and one male; who was learning a lot, but in some ways along for the ride. And we began working through the worlds.
There is value to be had, even if at times it might only be useful in an inspirational sense, from the literature that is available. As modern seekers, we can study the source material available, understand what we can from that, review and share experiences and theories with other seekers, and work consistently on developing our own connection from this point; the only place we have from which to work.
And so, that is what we did. Looking at the Táin, an integral tale to this complex of sites, as well as it’s broader value in Irish Literature, we developed the idea of the Earth, Sea, and Sky model, the three worlds. How would we learn this, experience this, with no one to teach it? How could it be taught? What would the journey of an initiation cycle look like when based around this core concept? How could we make that work?
There were many late night conversations, many heated debates, and even a few all round arguments. A loose plan was formed to work through each world on an annual basis, with a programme of rituals and exercises for each, culminating in an intense practical initiatory experience of the particular elements of that world. We put ourselves through the wringer – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We survived Earth, we survived Sea, we survived Sky.
Then everything blew apart, in quite a spectacular fashion. The small sparks suddenly exploded out of all proportion. Family relationships, careers, friendships, even a marriage, all burned up in the unplanned extra, the middle of the triple spiral that touches all three worlds, the sacred centre of every circle. The world of Fire.
We survived Fire, but we did it as individuals. Our work exploded and imploded, and, speaking for myself at least, evened out (eventually) into a steady, burning core of power and connection that touches all the worlds. And it is that connection that has been my most important lesson. Nothing stands alone. There are stories within stories, sites within sites, people within people. Inter-linking circles, spirals, which join place to place, people to people, and one time to another. None of our sacred sites is just one thing, at one time. None of our deities or archetypal characters stand alone, none are confined to one location, one function, one relationship. None of the Daoine Eile are restricted to one role, one aspect, one place. Recognising and studying the layers, the overlap, the bridging points, is essential. Working between worlds can be a key to understanding Irish traditions.
Not terms you’d want to be used about you if you’re serious about your Irish heritage.
Well, more serious at least than a green leprechaun hat and getting pissed as a fart on Paddy’s Day.
So, how do we avoid such labels?
How do you know if you are making a tit of yourself when you tell people you’re Irish? How do you know if you make the grade?
I don’t believe it’s all about being born here, but ya gotta understand the culture. Walk it as well as talk it like. Irish American is a different thing to being Irish – not better or worse, but definitively different.
It’s not that hard, really.
Us Irish actually have the toughest time of it, with our outdated dinosaur curriculum forced-by-nuns-and-christian-brothers system of learning the Irish or Gaeilge, from the age of 4 or 5 until we leave school at 17 or 18. There’s many an Irish person who’s done over 13 years of schooling here, with Irish lessons most days, only to firmly believe that they can’t speak a damn word of it past ‘how are ya’, and the ubiquitous ‘póg mo thóin’.
But see if we could spend that much time learning it like any other language is taught? We’d be a nation of Gaeilgeoirí once more.
Learning to speak Irish is no more difficult than learning any other language, with the right tools and tricks up your sleeve. That’s where this blog post comes in!
When a friend (check her out, she’s awesome) asked me for some tips and tricks recently, this is what shot off the top of my head…
Then Kass returned the favour by showing me this: List of Resources for Learning Irish.
The Normans, perhaps? Strongbow was a Norman lord from Wales who started the Norman conquest of Ireland, around 1170. Though some of them ‘went native’ and were absorbed into Gaelic (Irish) culture, that was maybe the start of the disparagement and racism against the Irish in our own land.
The Tudor Conquest began with Henry VIII in 1536, and he’d declared himself King of Ireland by 1541. That continued through Elizabeth, and James I, and ended (officially) with the ‘Flight of the Earls‘ in 1607.
We were firmly under the English boot by then. Through the 1500s and 1600s CE we’d been subjected to the Plantations, where ownership of our land was forcibly stripped by the English crown, and re-settled with citizens from England. This officially ended in the 1650s with thousands of Parliamentarian soldiers settled in Ireland under the direction of Oliver Cromwell. Ulster was a hotspot for plantation settlement, and this created large strongholds of communities with British and Protestant identity.
English settlers in Ireland did not think highly of our native Gaelic, and by that time firmly Catholic, culture…
How godly a deed it is to overthrow so wicked a race the world may judge: for my part I think there cannot be a greater sacrifice to God.
– Edward Barkley, describing how the forces of the Earl of Essex slaughtered the entire population of Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim, 1575
All wisdom advises us to keep this [Irish] kingdom as much subordinate and dependent on England as possible; and, holding them from manufacture of wool (which unless otherwise directed, I shall by all means discourage), and then enforcing them to fetch their cloth from England, how can they depart from us without nakedness and beggary?
– Lord Stafford, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in a letter to King Charles I, 1634
They took our natural resources, the strength of our labour, and grew rich off the skin of our backs, ate well and drank merry while our people drowned in blood, sweat, and tears. They fed us slave food – this, the Irish potato, and when it failed us they refused to allow us to eat of anything else fed from our own lands, grown from our own rich soil.
You’ve all heard of “the Famine” I’m sure, but first the Irish Famine of 1740 killed at least 38% of our 2.4 million population; proportionally, a greater loss than during the worst years of the Great Famine of 1845–1852. In that time, we lost more than a million people to starvation, and a million more to forced emigration, and they said it was our fault.
…being altogether beyond the power of man, the cure had been applied by the direct stroke of an all-wise Providence in a manner as unexpected and as unthought of as it is likely to be effectual.
The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated. …The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.
– Charles Trevelyan, head of administration for famine relief, 1840s
[existing policies] will not kill more than one million Irish in 1848 and that will scarcely be enough to do much good.
– Queen Victoria’s economist, Nassau Senior
The United Irishmen (and women) Rebellion in 1798 was perhaps the beginning of the first organised attempts to overthrow the oppressors in hundreds of years, and it officially started in Belfast in 1791 (read my post about Vinegar Hill). A counter campaign of martial law used tactics such as house burnings, torture of captives, pitch-capping and murder, particularly in Ulster where large numbers of Catholics and Protestants had joined in common cause. That just couldn’t stand.
The Act of Union in 1801 was a betrayal, and highlighted a particularly Catholic vs Protestant struggle for Catholic emancipation, and following from that the The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB; in Irish: Bráithreachas Phoblacht na hÉireann) began in 1858 – it was a secret oath-bound fraternal organisation dedicated to the establishment of an “independent democratic republic” in Ireland.
And then, my dear Readers, our Troubles became focused in ‘the North’.
Tensions were rising and we seemed on the brink of civil war from 1912, with opposition to ‘Home Rule‘ from Ulster Unionists, who formed the ‘Ulster Volunteers’, which led to Irish Nationalists forming the ‘Irish Volunteers’. World War 1 averted some of the crisis, but it didn’t go away anywhere.
Of course the famed Easter Rising didn’t happen in a vacuum, and we’ve just celebrated the 100 year anniversary of that these last few months, so we’re very much into recent history now after a run down of what… nearly 750 years of English rule? The history of that is well know, I guess, though the depth and breadth of it is often glossed over and washed green instead of red, swathed in beer and rebel ballads.
The Partition of Ireland was the division of the island of Ireland which created two distinct political territories – Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, as it was called at the time, on the 3rd of May in 1921, under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Today we still call the 6 counties ‘Northern Ireland’, and it is a self governing part of the larger ‘United Kingdom’, with Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and England. The rest of the island is a sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland, or just called Ireland.
To refer to us now as ‘Southern Ireland’ is offensive. To say we are part of “Great Britain” will get you verbally slapped at least, and even though technically and geographically our island can be classed as part of the ‘British Isles’, if you’ve read this far you may now have an inkling of why it might rankle and burn to be proprietorially inferred as owned by Britain in such a way.
I’ve brought you this far, through 800 years of systematic oppression and genocide, shown you the seeds that were planted on our island that were cultivated and grew to be ‘the North’.
I didn’t grow up there. I’m reluctant to talk about the horrors that direct immersion in ‘the Troubles’ has brought for the people who did.
My great grandparents, my grandparents and their siblings were directly involved, and maybe even my parents or their siblings, I don’t know. We don’t talk about the more recent loyalties and actions in the same way as we tell stories which are a generation or two removed. I can tell you the stories I’ve heard of the Black and Tans that make me want to scream when I see a product named this way in ignorance, my awareness and fears through the long years of Bombings in the North, and the Republic, and in the heart of England too – and if you ever order an ‘Irish Car Bomb’ drink in my presence you will not be in my presence for much longer, of that you can be sure.
I can share memories of crossing into the North, across the border, maybe once or twice… and the soldiers aiming guns at us frightened kids in the back of the car, their harsh questions and suspicious peering, poking, prodding with the tip of a machine gun.
I can tell you of the confusion and anger I felt when I first learned of the Hunger Strikes, at the age of 4 or 5 years old, and later on when I understood the dirty protests, and the stark reality of a person starving themselves to death for what they believed. Of how the energy of hunger has seeped so thoroughly into this land that it seems forever stained with the raw, gnawing, hollowed out fear and pain of starvation, and how teenage me was tormented by that before I even knew what it was, or how to manage it and protect myself from the ravenous pockets of it that are a part of our landscape. And maybe even begin to heal some of that, in time.
And I can tell you of the sweet, cautious, dawning of hope with the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, two weeks before my 20th birthday. That unsteady peace has grown, and things have stabilised in the North for the first time any of us can remember.
Nearly one year ago now (24th June 2016), we woke to the news that Britain had voted to exit the EU – Brexit – and still nobody knows what that means for Northern Ireland. I’m not going to speculate on that… but about the only good I saw from the last year’s news and social media chatter is the idea that both Unionists and Nationalists in the North may be agreed that leaving the United Kingdom is the way forward for Northern Ireland.
Borders have always been a problem for us, as you can perhaps imagine.
Note: Throughout the article are clickable direct links to further resources… which I’ve kept to general Wikipedia articles to aim for as much source neutrality as possible. Please do educate yourself further, as this article is only scratching the surface.
The subject of fairies in Celtic cultures is a complex one that seems to endlessly intrigue people. What exactly are fairies? What can they do? How can we interact with them? Answering these questions becomes even harder in a world that is disconnected from the traditional folklore and flooded with modern sources that are often vastly at odds with the older beliefs. This book aims to present readers with a straightforward guide to the older fairy beliefs, covering everything from Fairyland itself to details about the beings within it. The Otherworld is full of dangers and blessings, and this guidebook will help you navigate a safe course among the Good People.
Those who know me, know I’m no stranger to Daimler’s work.
Is it too early to start raving about this book? It might be too early to start raving about this book.
Inside you’ll see chapters on…
Each chapter is excellent, academic and in-depth but eminently readable; treated with Daimler’s usual deep passion for the topics, and a touch of soft humour here and there.
Ok, now I’m gonna rave about it. I LOVE THIS BOOK!
As a native ‘Celtic’ (Irish) priest of the Old Ways here in Ireland, I view all of Daimler’s work as an invaluable resource, and highly recommend anything that flows from that brain.
The world needs more people teaching everyone how not to get screwed by the Fair Folk 😉
(these are affiliate links, I’ll get a few cents if you shop through them, but it doesn’t cost you anything!)