New Pagan Interview Series: I’m talking to people from international Pagan communities about their spiritual path, and the Facebook groups they help to organise and run.
When and where did your interest in Pagan/Earth based Spirituality begin?
Whilst my vocabulary and intellectual understanding did not go far till I was twelve I would say it was present from my earliest memories. This came through in my interest and love of myths and faerie tales, which I still have. I give talks on this subject and perform storytelling to this day.
I talked to everything: trees, toys and animals and loved films that involved magic, witches and wizards. I always wanted to be one.
With this I also had psychic experiences, some I interpreted as evil or dangerous which I have learnt as I matured were not. I would see and speak with faerie and other beings and in some ways it held such a common place I didn’t realise it was magical though I still wanted magic.
How did you practically go about getting started, and what resources did you have available to you – eg. books, teaching courses, events, people you met?
I wanted to explore all this more and when I was 12, an esoteric shop opened in my local high street. I can’t recall how but I had funds for some books and used my local library to take on as many books as I could on magic, paganism and divination.
I met some pagans early on but they wore glittery robes and to my mind were more style over substance, this made me keep my distance.
As I got older I tried again and found some intelligent, interesting and wonderful people.
Additionally I joined a spiritualist circle which allowed me to practice my communication with spirits as well as divination and healing.
What does being Pagan mean to you? (or your term of choice, please explain!)
Pagan to me today is an umbrella term for those practicing earth based spirituality, often reinvented or restructured, which is good as a religion of the earth should evolve, which a religion of the book tends to struggle with. I am more inclined to use the term witch or magician as my focus is on magical work. To me these are working titles, I am not interested in hierarchical titles or being called adept etc (which I am not) simply I work with various powers and in doing so these terms are titles of that.
Some see more in them and that is fine and some romanticise the terms and I am not sure how I feel about that. For me I have simply answered a calling but I still have to clean the kitchen and iron my clothes.
To me a Pagan path is essentially, a narrative of the earth, within various traditions are its own nuances.
What sort of things do you do on a daily/weekly, monthly or seasonal basis to explore or express your Spirituality?
I do daily meditations and simple rituals of stillness. Seasonally I perform basic rituals to bring in the power of the season to flow through myself, home and land. Or I just walk amongst nature and let myself connect. On Spring Equinox I like to go to Kew Garden for example. I like to walk in my local woods and see how things are growing and how it feels.
What advice do you wish someone had given you, that you would like to give people starting out on this path?
I realise that magic is in all things. It is in ritual and conversation it is in the kabbalah and the sun, the moon and the rain. It is all around us all the time and in our childhoods. I realised one day I knew more than I realised and that the bible I was raised in (not fundamentally) was full of magic, along with the faerie tales I grew up with.
It may seem obvious that faerie tales are full of magic, but getting at the patterns within them and the magical messages took me time. When we mature we think magic isn’t faerie tales, we know it as something practical and powerful. In being mature we let go of Childish things, but there is a difference being childish and being childlike and being childlike. Being childlike is a gift.
I think mystery is in that we know more than we are aware of and that awareness comes from experience.
What is the name of the Facebook Group you admin, and how did you get involved there? (please feel free to provide group details eg. member numbers or general guidelines, and a link to group)
The Centre of Pagan Studies has been going on for some time. I got involved last year after reading Philip Heselton’s biography of Doreen Valiente. I had been looking to give back to the Pagan community and found Doreen to be an inspiration person who had been involved so decided to offer to help. [The Centre for Pagan Studies FB Group is Here.]
What is the most frustrating thing for you about being involved with that group?
I think it can be frustrating to find the right vocabulary. In magic and Paganism we do not really have our own language so we have to work quite philosophically to communicate effectively. I have seen people essentially agree with each other but end up arguing as their words are interpreted differently. Ultimately it is not really a problem just a shame it’s hard to bypass.
What is the most satisfying thing for you about being involved with that group?
The fact that we remember those who came before us who made strides for Paganism. We have set up blue plaques for people like Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente. Also people involved are very engaged in the subject matter and we discuss often some ancient practices which some people still practice or have come across. We attempt to provide both an educational resource (giving talks for example) and discussing these subject matters keeping it organic and shifting.
If you could guarantee that each group member had read AT LEAST one book before joining, what book would that be?
I think it would be hard to pin point one book but I would go back to faerie tales. To have read some of the Grimm brothers work and look into the early stories as well as the colour books (The yellow fairy book, red fairy book etc compiled by Andrew Lang).
There are some great occult books out there and some bad ones, though I found all of those helped me develop a magical vocabulary.
Further to this I would encourage to read history and anthropology as well as classical texts.
Anything else you’d like to share?!
Whilst books are great the essence of magic is doing it and living it. The essence of paganism is in practicing it and living it. Keep it simple and embrace the stories you were told growing up and the cartoons you may have seen (often based on these books). When you have conversations remember language is insufficient to express magic and spirituality. So take care. When I talk to magical practitioners of various traditions if you work to find a common language, we find we have a lot in common.
I would encourage people to tread lightly and to take their time and to listen.
Richard Levy works with the Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation.
BIO: I began my pagan path at a young age but and magic is something I feel was always a part of my life. But with time I learned how to nourish this part of myself. I feel today we are encouraged to ignore these parts of who we are and it is something we re-learn. It is in many ways learning to do what breeze and river and bird do naturally. I studied philosophy and theology at university and whilst I did not have formal training I learned a lot from people I met along my path from Children to adults. Should people want to contact me about the interview they can contact me on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ok, so legally, you can’t. Or at least, you can’t in most places.
In the Wicklow Mountains National Park, wild camping is allowed (with sensible restrictions), except in Glendalough. You can check information on this area here.
A lot of folk camp on the beaches of Ireland, and some are more favourable than others. Fallmore near Belmullet in Mayo, Baginbun Beach near Feathard in Co. Wexford, and Wine Strand or Ventry Beach along the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry are all recommended, though I’ve not camped on any of them personally.
Generally, you have to be aware of trespassing on private land. If there’s a spot you’d really love to camp at, knock on the door of the nearest house and ask who owns it, then ask for permission. Offering a wee donation is always a good idea.
State owned land is technically public property, but the rangers and lifeguards and such obviously get first say in what you can and can’t do there. For beaches, there’s legal access to the foreshore – which means ‘the bed and shore, below the line of high water of ordinary or medium tides, of the sea and of every tidal river and tidal estuary and of every channel, creek and bay of the sea or of any such river or estuary. The land above this can be privately owned so if you have to cross above the median High Water mark you may be trespassing.’ (Further Info)
For his birthday one of the years, my son asked for a family camping trip, “away from people”. His requirements were a river, and trees. And no people. Did we mention no people? He was very clear.
I hadn’t done a wild camp in many years, so, cue frantic research scramble to see if the laws had changed. Not a lot, it turns out.
We were leaving from Dublin on Friday afternoon, and had to do the food shopping first… so somewhere within 2 hours drive of the capital was necessary, to ensure that we had time to find a place, park safely, hike (with all the gear) to a suitable spot away from the road, pitch the tent and set up camp before dark.
Wicklow Mountains camping was out for me, with the boy along. To be honest, I’m still hearing there’s a rash of break-ins to cars at popular parking spots – look for broken glass on the ground around any intended parking to check if there’s been windows broken there recently. It’s also a popular spot for a gang of lads to get cans and head out to of a Saturday night, for drunken fun and frolics.
None of that seemed like a recipe for a peaceful family trip, or an enjoyable birthday for him, so we went a little further afield.
I’m not going to say exactly where – the internet is full of horrible people after all, as well as all you lovely types – but what I did was choose a general location with national parkland (it was the Slieve Bloom Mountain region for us this trip), and source a few potential parking spots around an area I liked the look of.
We headed out, drove about a bit and found a nice spot at the head of a trail. Parked up, did a recon mission and found a place where folk had camped before (slightly flattened land and the remains of a fire pit) in a river valley that was, admittedly, a horrible hike to and from the car – but is absolutely gorgeous.
Site chosen, we hiked back up to the car, loaded up the essentials for the camp set up and first night (it took two trips), and pitched the tent. We had to re-set the fire pit a little, and I double lined it to prevent scorched earth around it. I dug a small trench latrine or ‘cathole’ away from the tent site, and even further from the river, and we’d brought water for our drinking, washing and cooking in 5L containers.
We didn’t light a fire that evening, and were absolutely eaten by midgies, and wrecked from travelling and set up, so it was an early night, with the sounds of the river burbling nearby, and wind through the treetops to lull us to sleep.
If you’re going to attempt a trip like this, there’s a few things you should know…
All campers should aspire to minimising their impact on the environment by conforming to the following code of conduct:
Catholes for disposal of human waste must be located at least 30m away from watercourses and 50m from walking routes. Human waste must be buried or carried out of the site. No evidence of latrine use should remain visible. All toilet paper and hygiene products must be carried out.
Campfires are not permitted in the National Parks. The issuing of permits for campfires is suspended pending review.
Failure to comply with this code will result in withdrawal of permission to camp. In such cases National Park Rangers will demand that the visitors break camp.
As with most things, it all boils down to common sense, and respect.
Just don’t be a dick, ok?
A clash of metal rang out over the training grounds, followed by a muffled grunt of exertion, and the wooden thud of shield engaging shield.
“Put yer backs into it little wormies! Domhnall, keep that shield up, yer shoulder is wide open. Aoife, thrust and slice, stop that bloody hacking!”
Her attention caught by the familiar morning sights and sounds of Corbhall putting the young warriors through their paces, she couldn’t help but smile as he met her eye with a wolfish grin. The benevolent smile faded somewhat as she observed him raise his leg and let rip a loud fart in her general direction. She sighed a little, observing him grab up a large wooden waster and stride off towards the hapless Domhnall, who was about to get a very practical lesson in what happens when a person leaves their shoulder exposed in a battle situation. Well, at least he was using a wooden training sword this time, and not his own fierce blade. Phuic’s latest ‘little chat’ with him must have done some good.
As she turned to go inside, movement through the hawthorn boundary stirred her curiosity, and she stepped towards it for a clearer view. As her home was situated with the School to the east and the Procession Ways to the west, she gained a clear view of the latter direction by moving through a small gap in the boundary with her back to the morning sun.
A tall, graceful figure was moving softly over the grass, and Leila recognised her immediately. Alone, as usual, the girl Saille made her careful way to a point exactly between the two raised banks, placing herself at the start of the ritual procession route. Pale arms seemed to glow in the bright morning light as she raised them in salute, the loose sleeves of her robe falling back lightly, and fluttering as she turned to face the newly risen sun. Eyes closed, she did not notice that she had an audience. Opening her mouth, her voice poured forth – the strong beginning note sounding pure in the morning air. Respectfully, Leila turned back, not wanting to disturb the solitary girl’s rituals, or embarrass her with observation. Besides, it was time to make her way to the School, classes would begin shortly.
Gathering her things from inside, she shut the door on her way out and walked a brisk pace around the training grounds, out to the horse fields. If she didn’t collect little Anande every day that child would never set foot in the classroom. Leila doubted she would ever do anything that didn’t involve those horses, unless someone cajoled, begged or forced her to do it. It had been the very same since she had arrived for fostering at the age of 2 – she was already grooming and working with horses by then. 8 years on, the obsession had only grown deeper. Her own breeding pair were her pride and joy, a fine white stallion she had called Tír na nÓg, and a proud dark mare who went by the (somewhat risky, Leila had often felt) name of Mórrioghan.
Indeed, her hard work and dedication had already paid off, with their offspring highly sought after – holding top position in many races each year, all over the land. Anande’s talents had come to the notice of the Queen herself, and it was known that she would have the option of a place in the royal household when she came of age. Although knowing that girl, she would probably never venture much beyond the stables and the horse fields, once she didn’t have to.
With the Óenach just around the corner, Leila braced herself for the frustrated tirade she knew was imminent. Sure enough, as soon as she came into view, Anande was upon her, demanding to know the news – would she be allowed to compete her own horses this year? Every other year she had been judged too young, even though her skill was equal to any grown man or woman. Privately, Leila supposed that the judges were listening too much to the whispers of their friends – friends whose whispers were fuelled mainly by fear of being beaten by a 10 year old girl. At these large community fairs, pride was everything; Anande represented too much of a threat to the long established egos.
“I am sorry mo leanbh, I have not heard a decision yet. But it would not do to get your hopes too high. You are young yet, and there is plenty of time to compete. This year again, the children of your horses will run, and be shown, and all will see and know your gifts with these creatures. Your time will come.”
Leila waited patiently while the girl cleared up and said goodbye to her friends, preparing herself for another day away from them. Hearing a grumpy ‘harrumph’ from the mare, she turned to find a large hairy hound loping across the open ground towards them, tongue lolling with exertion from the run. Greeting him with a smile, she spent the remaining wait for the child stroking Phuic’s sleek black head, and scratching his soft furry back. When Anande was ready to leave, they set out together, Phuic still in his hound form leading the way to the School.
When Leila had first arrived at Caiseal Manannan, it had taken her a while to get used to the Shifters.
Nervous at first, she had avoided their company, keeping largely to herself, as much as possible. But she had soon realised it was impossible not to like Phuic, with his easy going nature and boundless energy. The rest had taken her longer to get to know, with Corbhall being the last and latest. That one still made her slightly uneasy at times – the singular nature of the warrior wolf a contrast to Phuic’s flexible changing. The man did a great job training the young warriors though, she had to give him that. It made up for some of the noisy body functions and harshly practical and abrupt personality, at least.
Approaching the School, the trio made their way up by the stone wall of the first enclosure, over the ditch and in through the largest, central enclosure. Beyond the next ditch was the third enclosure, where her classroom was situated. Opening the door wide to catch the early breeze, she decided that today was a day for outdoor learning; perhaps a walk to identify some new plant species, and a lesson in the afternoon regarding the medicinal and magical properties of their new found flora. Phuic was already settling into his shift mode – which she still, despite her best efforts, found difficult to watch – for he would need human hands again to complete his daily tasks. It was not easy to maintain the armoury or practise sword forms with the hooves of a goat or the talons of a raven. Anande picked the broom from the yard, making her way to the classroom door to begin the morning sweep. Leila was close on her heels, and they both stopped short when they encountered the man seated inside. Uncurling from the chair, he rose and followed them as they backed out into the open. Phuic looked up in surprise at the unexpected visitor, but when he identified who had joined them, he quickly took his leave. Anande too, found somewhere else she urgently needed to be. Left with a polite smile glued to her face, Leila barely suppressed the flutter of panic in her breast. The man watched Phuic enter the main enclosure and disappear into the armoury, waiting for the last longing look that inevitably reached Leila as he left, and nodding with seeming satisfaction as it arrived right on cue. Leila failed to notice either man’s actions, her eyes on the ground.
“Sit with me.”
The command was not harsh, but it brooked no argument, so Leila sat at his feet. As she looked up into eyes that gave their colour to the seas, she felt nervous tension drain from her shoulders, and took a deep breath. This refreshed her. However apprehensive his unexpected presence had made her, they shared a trust carefully built with years of respectful interaction. She closed her eyes, and allowed his voice to transport her…
“You are floating. Dark seas all around you, and you sit in a currach, calm amid the storms. The motion is gentle, soothing, a contrast to the turbulence that surrounds you. As the boat moves, the serenity moves with you. You focus on that still centre, and look outward as you journey.
An island. People, music, fire. A confusing jumble of strange activity, odd clothing, incomprehensible speech. You move on, away, seeking forward on your journey.
Another island. Large structures, fast moving objects. You move on. Another, a large procession, giant green hats and banners, standards and crests unrecognisable. You move on. Faster and faster you move by the islands, none are right for you to see. Metal monsters that roar and speed faster than you can follow. Houses and keeps taller than any tree, taller even than the mountains. Music and sounds so loud they hurt the ear. Plants and animals so alien to your eyes. Colours and lights brighter than the stars, than flames, brighter than the summer sun. People of so many tribes, in garments and materials the like of which you have never dreamed. Doing things you can make no sense of. Your boat skims onwards, forwards on your journey.
And stops. This island seems empty, the shoreline clean and unbroken by habitat. Your currach washes up, bow softly kissing the sand. You disembark, sandy shingle quickly giving way to smoothened rocks as you make your way up the beach, then to wiry scrub, and finally to grassy land. There are trees you know, some small plants that are recognisable. Familiar forest noises, soothing after the strangeness. Then human sounds, voices in the distance. No discernible language, but shouts and laughter that seem to indicate contented playfulness. Continuing in that direction, you keep to the cover of the trees as you come to an open space, a clearing, in which a family are at rest. Not wanting to disturb them, you simply see.
A young boy, about 6 or 7 years old – shouting and whooping as he runs through the long grass. He is broad shouldered for one so young, sturdy and healthy looking. His sisters chase him, laughing carefree girls of early puberty, maybe 11 or 12; there’s not much between them in age. The younger girl is fit and strong, whooping with sheer pleasure, filled with energy and raw power. The older is graceful and willowy, more reserved than her siblings, joining in as she wants to but deliberately curbing her enthusiasm, and often distracted by some small detail, mesmerised in her own world until a shout or a poke brings her back into the game.
The grownups sit and watch, at ease with each other and comfortably familiar. He is a young old man, whose countenance seems to shed a light all his own; a bright, happy soul who cannot help but show his adoration for the family, and a deep self-satisfaction with the situation in which he finds himself. Fit, with a warrior’s movements and the innocence of youth. And she, she is dark of hair and light of skin, taller than a woman should be, but striking. There is a… presence about her, something that is hard to describe, a power that lies smooth under the surface. As you observe her, puzzling, she turns and looks directly at you. With no surprise, she smiles, and nods hello, and you return the courtesy. With that recognition, you know it is time to leave this happy family, to return through the trees, to the beach, and climb in to seat yourself in the currach.
The sea swells gently to carry you back, away from the island and back out across the waves. As you return, you think of this family, the knowing smile of that mother, safe in her home surrounded by her loved ones, and you can’t help but smile again.
You are floating again. Dark seas all around you, and you sit in the currach, calm amid the storms. The motion is gentle, soothing, a contrast to the turbulence that surrounds you. As the boat moves, the serenity moves with you. You focus on that still centre, and hear my voice. You remember those people. Their spirits are familiar, you have met and known them already, and will remember and love them again. Keep that calm centre within you as you travel your outward journey, and when you are ready, just open your eyes…”
And she did.
This piece grew from a character banter/brainstorm with the kids in the car on the way to school one morning. I write the following when I returned home, and the rest came later.
Saille: Priestess in training. Mystery figure who refuses to engage with anyone. Age undetermined.
Anande: 10 year old horse breeder/trainer. Not allowed to compete her horses in the óenach, too young! But there’s men of 50 who aren’t ¼ as good as she is. She keeps a mare and a stallion who’s offspring regularly win the races, breeds horses for the king and the queen themselves.
Corbhall: 19 year old warrior who farts a lot! Trains all the child warriors at the school, and can shape shift into a wolf.
Leila: Teacher in Caiseal Manannan.
Phuic: Shape shifts – black dog, black stallion, black bird. Young warrior knight.
All that aside, Manannan is a fascinating figure in Irish Gaelic tales. In his essay, Dr. Charles McQuarrie describes:
“Manannan mac Lir, the sometime god of the Irish Sea and lord of the Otherworld, who appears most often as a beneficent Otherworld-god-in-disguise. In some tales, especially the earlier ones, Manannan appears disguised as a noble mortal king, but in later tales, as in a number of 15th century sources, he appears in bizarre, horrible, and even comical disguise.”
The late, great, Prof. Dáithí O hÓgáin described him as “Otherworld lord and mythical mariner”, who rode over the waves on a horse named Enbharr (‘water-foam’), and the professor tells of the waves being called ‘the locks of Manannan’s wife’.
This son of the sea is associated with stone remains lying South West of Rathcroghan mound. Caiseal Manannan was a multivallate stone fort, made up of three concentric stone walls, with ditches between each – a site which may originally have incorporated a roofed structure. The inner enclosure is 40 metres in diameter, and the walls are approx. 1.5 metres thick. There is reference to a ‘Druidic school’ in the area, and Caiseal Manannan (the stone fort of Manannan) is a likely site for that.
Learning journeys to the Otherworld, teaching the secrets of safe travel, the mysteries of warrior training and initiation, and the priestly arts… it all had to happen somewhere, right?
So, as part of our 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about the Irish Goddess Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.
8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.
I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog.
[Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]
Shannon Duerden Thompson asked: “I’m wondering about what daily practices you’ve found to be the most valuable?”
Listening, to be perfectly honest.
My relationship with Herself is very much about…well, that – the relationship – and building that relationship to a point where there is, I feel, a pretty free flow of communication between us.
How that looks changes, y’know, I’m going to talk a lot about personal gnosis, and you’ll also hear me talk about imbas, which is a knowledge, basically, that I would receive directly from Her.
The daily practices that I found most valuable have been to take some time every single day to be quiet, and to listen, and to be aware of Her and Her presence in my life, and to take instruction from Her directly. Thankfully that (direct instruction) doesn’t happen every day, and when it does happen it’s usually a kick – and it’s not always through the daily practices, it’s often kind of a bolt from the blue.
Or, a kick up the hole. That happens a lot.
So the daily practice I feel keeps me in tune with Her. I do try and sit on some grass – now you may or may not have grass where you are, but you probably have some form of a tree, or something similar. I would suggest finding a spot that feels like Her to you.
There’s a simple technique that I’ve developed to Journey in the Irish Otherworld, and that’s often a part of my daily practice.
And as I’ve moved around, particular since I’ve moved away from Roscommon where I lived and worked for fifteen years, dealing with Her on a daily basis, I’ve had to find new ways and new places to connect to Her.
I have found one here that’s local to me (I’m down the south of Ireland in Munster now), but it is about exploring your local area and finding somewhere that feels like Her to you. That might change over time, and that might be different even on a daily or a weekly basis, or it might change and evolve as you get to know Her a bit better and start to hear Her more clearly.
I say ‘hear’ as in not necessarily physically hearing Her, just an awareness of Her. Making time and making space for Her to communicate… and even if she doesn’t communicate back every single day, I’m there. I show up.
A huge part of all this Irish Pagan stuff – and something that you’ll hear me say many, many times, over and over, until you’re fucking sick of the sound of it – is that you need to show up and you need to do the work.
Part of that is with the daily practice of just taking some time. And by some time I mean – it could be anything from ten minutes to an hour. Generally it’s in the morning time, for me, before the house wakes up. I have three kids so obviously over the last twenty years of doing this (Pagan, generally) work I have had times when things are quite chaotic in the household.
Everybody is busy – shut up now with them excuses. There’s always something you can do. I’m just gonna be perfectly blunt here, and overshare with the world – there was a time when my children were small, that my daily practice was I would literally have to make sure the kids were safe and entertained, and then lock the bathroom door for five or ten minutes so nobody in the house could get in, to take some time on the toilet. That was my quiet connection time and my sanity – though it wasn’t always uninterrupted even at that!
But anyway, the point is that you can find some regular space in your day, even with mad work commitments, family responsibilities, a small baby… even with crazy stuff going on around you, you can find five minutes, ten minutes, every single day to make space for Her and to show up for Her, and to see if She does have any work that She needs you to do.
And sometimes you just showing up….I mean, obviously this can feed into daily meditation practice and all other kinds of good stuff that we know is necessary for our mental health, but usually put on the bottom of our priority list.
Are there other, more exciting and dramatic things that I do as a Priestess of the Mórrígan, as part of my daily practice? Sure there are! But if you’re looking to build a relationship with this Irish Goddess, start here, and prove yourself to Her this way first.
Taking that quiet time to connect is doing the work, it’s as simple and as complicated as that. It’s part of any warrior training, and it’s part of priesthood training as well, so sometimes that’s the first (and even the only) work that She needs you to do today.
And that’s okay.
(thanks to Marjorie for the transcription service from class, much appreciated!)
… This ‘Irish Accent’ shit though.
And leprechaun hats and lucky charms and a ‘Brigid Oracle’ machine and ‘Irish Yoga’ memes – well, begosh and begorra sure aren’t all the Oirish quaint and charming funny drunks?!
Ok, so that’s the frustrated rant part over. Well, the rant part at least. Ok, so I MAY rant again before we’re done, I’ll not lie to ye. It’s all relatable enough for those born here, and for most folk who genuinely seek an Irish connection though, I’d say.
This is where it gets a little more complicated. I’ve talked tongue in cheek about 9 Signs That You Might Be A Plastic Paddy before, and the reaction was interesting.
I get the fragile sense of connection, the lack of belonging, that is so very prevalent in the United States. I can empathise with it, even if I haven’t lived it.
But the American craving for roots is the direct cause a whole pile of shite being put out in the world that is not healthy and not doing ye any favours. Y’all need to fix that, and it starts with YOU.
For example, the Asatru Folk Assembly (I’m not going to link them and provide traffic to their shite) in 2016 – and this was even before the Oathbreaker became President 45, if I remember correctly – made a statement that runs like this:
Today we are bombarded with confusion and messages contrary to the values of our ancestors and our folk. The AFA would like to make it clear that we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children. The children of the folk are our shining future and the legacy of all those men and women of our people back to the beginning. Hail the AFA families, now and always!
What’s that got to do with being Irish? I’m glad you asked!
Besides the fact they named their hall ‘Newgrange’… this racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic poison is prevalent in many groups who claim to follow a Norse or ‘Celtic’ spiritual path. Most recently, folklore author Carolyn Emerick (again, not linking to her filthy shit) has been outed and widely – sensibly – called on it by the general Pagan communities that she hitherto fed off.
Now, I work a lot with Irish ancestry. Every day, I would say, between personal work with my own ancestors and facilitating authentic connection to Ireland for folk who are feeling that, often because of family history and ties. I worked for many years in the Irish heritage tourism industry, where ancestral lineage is perhaps the number one reason folk report they are visiting Ireland from America and Britain, primarily.
I truly get that ancestry is important, is my point. And I get that it’s interesting and exciting to trace your DNA, or your family tree; to find those roots here when you may have felt rootless your whole life. I have given you a nice set of awesome instruction on how to connect to your Irish ancestors on this blog, as a support for those wanting to do the work.
You may want, even feel the need, to relate yourself to this land and these people who are, let’s face it now, possibly the coolest tribe in the world, and to thrill at a sense of belonging that is proven and measurable.
This is where it starts to get a little dodgy though. Because, for the most part, people are ridiculous. Not you, I hope, but people generally really are. This ‘proven connection’ becomes purity, becomes elitism, becomes all out racism. All too easily.
And that can be true from folk who are born here, by the way, as well as mouth breathers from across the seas on either side of us, who decide they are ‘Irish’ and that makes them better than everyone else because CúChulainn.
Oh, and that those of us on the island are doing it wrong.
*long suffering sigh*
Irish DNA, bloodlines or proven ancestry, at the end of the day, doesn’t mean shit.
We’re not some chemistry marks on a page, some cherished photograph snapshot of the cultural highlights your ancestors left behind – we’re a living breathing culture, a people who continue to grow and change, but who also hold safe our heritage right here within our day to day lives.
I’ve said it from my first day on the internet, and I’ll keep saying it til ye fucking get it… Irish DNA isn’t what makes you Irish. (I’m gonna go ahead and include the spiritual aspect of all this right in here, but it’s just as relevant without. Your mileage may vary.)
Being Irish is about the land and the people, and yes, the language.
I get roasted in book reviews all the time because I keep banging on about the language, and how it is a valuable expression of Irish heritage and magic.
At it’s most basic, we all speak English because colonialism, oppression, genocide, and RACISM. When a native person tells you that it would be respectful for those seeking spiritual (and ancestral) connection to their land to maybe try and make an effort to include a few indigenous words and phrases, correct pronunciations and such – the correct response is not to dismiss and ridicule them.
Learn how to spell and pronounce the native terminology you want to use. FFS, seriously.
Learn how to address the Gods you seek in their native tongue. Learn how to say the names of indigenous people and places. Is it really too much for you?
Is your sense of belonging really that shallow that you get upset and offended and downright hostile when you are called out on this shit we are bombarded with day in and day out? Is that necessary, or warranted?
And you other folk who are lucky enough to have been born on this blessed isle… learn your own history.
Our version of a creation myth is the Lebor Gabála – the BOOK OF INVASIONS. Like, our own history is literally about waves of people coming to Ireland and making things interesting. Sometimes, that didn’t work out so well (I’m looking at you, 700+ years of English oppression), but for the most part it’s been really good for us. This land is shaped and fed by her people, and she takes care of us if we take care of each other.
This is important, and many Irish have forgotten it. Ireland is made of many tribes.
A couple of years back, a black woman of my aquaintance received absolutely vile racist abuse as she curated the @Ireland account on Twitter. More recently, the Waterford Rose of Tralee – my friend Kirsten – is receiving awful abuse, both online and in person. Things have been going downhill fast in Britain and America, and there’s stirrings of outright bigotry becoming more open here in Ireland too.
This is not our heritage. This is certainly not our spirituality.
Folk who were not born here often, in my experience, appreciate Ireland in a way many Irish fail to do. They have come to visit, or live here, and they breathe our island in fully and deeply. They speak the language because they want to connect to the soul of Ireland and they’re willing to put the work in to do that. They look around that small rural village you grew up in and despise, but they see the charming architecture, the hidden mysteries in the landscape, the value of community support that they’re often not even included in as ‘blow ins’.
You also forget, perhaps, or conveniently misplace in your mind that us Irish have exported generations, have solved our problems many times by leaving this land. (OK, so those problems were most often not of our own making, because again with the colonial oppression, but still.)
Is that how you want them treated?
So, you don’t have to be born here to be Irish. But the blood in your veins doesn’t make you so either. It’s about living the culture, putting in the work and the effort to connect, the respect and reverence for our history and heritage.
The other side of this coin is the importance of indigenous wisdom and experience. And again, this is where things are taking out of context and blown out of proportion by idiots.
I can say all of the above and still froth frustrated at the dismissal of an Irish person’s opinion or experience by non-native spiritual seekers who talk over us, disregard our advice or concerns, and profit from our resources at our expense.
Me getting angry at this and calling you on it doesn’t make me elitist, or some sort of aryan purist – and writing me off as such is a way of silencing my valid protest at your disrespect. Do you find yourself agreeing with #AllLivesMatter too?
But it happens all the time. At least weekly for me, but sometimes daily.
A Facebook friend made a very good point recently when someone was getting het up at the idea of not getting a free pass to follow any spiritual path they please, as and when they wanted… my friend asked (paraphrasing): What are you offering to this native spiritual path? What support are you giving to the indigenous people whose culture you wish to take from?
This resonated very deeply for me, particularly as I’m a big proponent of just doing the fecking work on your spiritual path. This story too – the Dagda’s Work, speaks strongly to me on this point.
None of this is about your surname, what title you claim, what country your ancestors came from, or where you happen to have been born this time round.
Do you patronise unique Irish businesses, eat local foods, and work with Irish tour guides when you visit? (OK that last one is a blatant plug, but whatever.)
What do you DO, every day, that makes you think you can call yourself Irish?
The oak door boomed, with a fierce thumping that shook the drying bundles of herbs right out of the rafters across the great hall. The Chief, sitting up at the top table, plucked a bit of dried nettle that had fallen into his cup, and – as puzzled as the rest of them about who could be making such a racket outside on that wild night – he gestured for the beams to be lifted and the door thrown open.
The gale from outside billowed in, throwing rain and twigs across the floor, and lifting the food off the plates of those who sat the closest. She stood on the threshold, with a cloak of dirty red wrapped tight around her, hood up against the storm – though it fought her every step to tear it down and away off into the night. She didn’t wait to be asked, but made her way inside with what would, ordinarily, have been a purposeful stride, but now was hindered and hobbled by an obvious injury to her left thigh. Once in, she threw off the hood, shaking loose the red head of curls for which she was well known, even then, and saying not a word til she stood right in front of the top table, and looked the Chief square in the eye.
“You owe me an honour price”, says she, “for the damage was done to me when your hounds were ahunting today in my woods.” The Chief knew well there’d been no damage done to her, nor any person, that day, for the Gilly was well trained to tell all on his return from any hunt. All he’d reported was a hare run down near the end of the day, though it’d gotten away before the kill, more’s the pity. He also knew those woods were no more hers than they belonged to his Gilly, but her family had the cottage by there for generations now, and the local stories went that they weren’t the type of folk that’d be wise to mess with (and whatever it was that had the neighbours afeared seemed to be growing stronger with each passing generation) so the Chief left well enough alone on that one. He asked her what she thought the honour price was owed for, and didn’t she bare her own thigh right there and then; the creamy white of it slashed through with a big mouthed bite that could only have come from one of the Chief’s own hounds indeed, for other dogs weren’t the size of them, and all the wolves had been hunted out long since.
She turned to the Master of the Hound, and asked him straight out if that bite, fresh as it was, could only have come from one of the Chief’s hounds, and he had to agree there was nothing else local that could have made it so fresh and so obvious. When the Chief refused to credit it, saying he knew the only thing they had run down that day was a fine puss of a hare, her nod and stony stare was all it took to draw the breath from every person in the place in shock.
But what could he do? Paying her would only show him believing in the magic long since thought to have been stamped from the land. He shook his head, and bid her leave, though the poisonous words then spewing from her mouth were enough to pale the staunchest noble at his tables. Her curse on his hounds just riled his temper even further, so he rose himself and pulled her off out into the night, with her cursing still heard after the stout beam was wrested back in place to bar the door.
She stayed there, just outside the hall, right through that night. Only at dawn, when she heard the first wails and cries as they found the stiff, cold forms outside in the kennels, did she pick up her skirts and begin the walk back to her cottage, where she lived for many a year more, with many more wails and cries on account of her… but sure, they are all stories for another day.
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Ogham (Pronounced: OH-mm, spelled ‘Ogam’ in Old Irish) is an ancient Irish language, written in a series of simple line markings along a straight edge. The original alphabet is a set of 20 characters or feda, arranged in 4 groups of 5, called aicmí. In later manuscripts, 5 additional letters appear, called the forfeda.
The characters themselves are known collectively as Beth-luis-nin, after the first letters of the groups, similar to the way Greek Alpha and Beta gave us the ‘alphabet’. Each Ogham letter is associated with a plant or tree, and a particular sound, and represents a collection of ‘kennings’; keys to knowledge, called the Briatharogaim.
While the texts and tales frequently mention Ogham being carved on wood and bark – used for spells and to record genealogies – it is the 358 inscribed stones known to remain in Ireland which provide a more permanent record. These seem to have served as burial or commemoration stones, boundary markers, and even a legal record for who might hold title to the land on which they stand.
It is impossible to definitively date the language, as we have no certain fixed points in history, archaeology, or linguistics. Most will agree that the Ogham carved stone tradition dates at least back to the 300’s CE, coinciding with the coming of the Latin language to Ireland, through trade with Roman Britain and the scholarship of Christian monks. Whether this was the start of the script, or it has deeper Pagan roots, is a question that waits to be answered.
Ogham’s importance in a hero’s burial is immortalised in the Táin:
“Then Etarcomol’s grave was dug
And his headstone planted in the ground
His name was written in Ogam
And he was mourned.”
Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom is a breakthrough in ogam divination and magical studies. Rather than working from the commonly known tree alphabet paradigm, Erynn Rowan Laurie takes us back to the roots of each letter’s name, exploring its meanings in the context of Gaelic language and culture. Like the Norse runes, each letter is associated with an object or a concept — “sulfur”, “a bar of metal”, “terror”. These letters are deeply enmeshed in a web of meaning both cultural and spiritual, lending power and weight to their symbolism. With two decades of experience with the ogam and over thirty years of working with divination, Erynn offers insights into the many profound meanings hidden in the ogam letters and their lore. She explains each letter in context and shows how to expand the system in new and innovative ways while acknowledging and maintaining respect for ogam’s traditional language and culture. In this book, you will find ways to use the ogam for divination, ideas on incorporating ogam into ritual, discussions of how ogam relates to Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, and instructions for creating your own set of ogam feda or letters for your personal use.
This book is a creative exploration of the Ogam, based on a 17-year study by Irish author John-Paul Patton. The text explores the historical context of Ogam and the relationship between Ogam, poetry and the Gaelic harp. It contains a range of comparative studies between Ogam and the Kabbalah, Runes, I Ching and other systems. The text also presents original creations of an Ogam calendar, a divination system, and a reconstruction of Fidchell (the ancient Irish chess game) based on Ogam. The text further includes a system of Gaelic martial arts based on an elemental Ogam framework, magical Ogam squares, Ogam pentacles and much more, that fill this Tour de Force of contemporary Ogam study and use. The Poet’s Ogam carries on the Art and Science of the Filid-the Philosopher Poets who created and developed the Ogam and is a must for anyone with an interest in Celtic spirituality and magick. John-Paul Patton is generally recognised as a leading authority in Ireland of esoteric Ogam studies.
(There’s a presumption that American Tourists are) …insensitive rude people who think the only way to do things properly is their way. This presumption isn’t limited to Irish People of course. But I find I have to prove myself to not be “one of those Yanks” before people will trust me and open up. However, it is ALWAYS worth the effort. – My friend Kass McGann, of Reconstructing History.
We’ve all met them.
The ones who make us cringe a little inside. The ones who presume we’re idiots and proceed to explain how things should be done right. The ones who are loud and brash and rude.
But, #NotAllAmericans… amirite?!
Actually, yeah. Thankfully that stereotypical USA Tourist in Ireland is only a sliver of the tourism trade here – we had 1,294,000 total visitors from the USA in 2016. They weren’t all insensitive eejits, or we’d have had a feckin’ riot on our hands like. There’s only so many times a proud people can bear being called cute or quaint.
So, for those of you travelling to Ireland who have a genuine love and respect for the land and people, who would love to seriously connect here… how do you do it right?
Ok so this one could fall into the category of giving your Irish hosts a wee ego stroke, coz we do love the sound of our own voices, for the most part. Fair enough.
But it’s also about hearing the stories. Given half a chance, most Irish folk will blether away for hours with story after story, all leading into each other and weaving round in a fierce tangle of history, culture, experience, and plain old gossip.
It’s actually amazing when you catch someone in a good flow and just leave em off. They’ll chat for hours, especially if there’s drinks to hand to whet the whistle a wee bit and keep things flowing smoothly.
And not just one to one either. Take a bus, or go sit in a busy cafe or pub up at the bar. As a writer, and someone genuinely fascinated by people – I do this a lot. Irish people are most often emotive, and passionate, and so feckin’ funny you’ll be hard pushed not to give away your eavesdropping by cracking the fuck up laughing.
You’ll learn a lot when you listen.
My friend Kass again, she reckons this is the way to go. She explained:
acting like you’re a guest in someone else’s house is a good idea. I think we Americans go about the world with a “customer is always right” attitude and that doesn’t help when you’re trying to get to know another culture. I once knew a man in an Irish guest house who went into the landlady’s kitchen UNINVITED to “teach her how to make eggs properly”. I could have cried. I was completely embarrassed even though I didn’t know the guy.
Yeah, all of us working in tourism have met that guy.
Things are gonna be different in another culture. Sometimes, really really different. AND THAT’S OK. It will happen, so just go with it.
You’re (hopefully) travelling here to experience Irish culture, not try to turn it into American culture. We eat our fucking eggs differently, ok? (Um, some of us also curse a lot, in case you hadn’t noticed. Best get used to that one too.)
Don’t be that guy.
Hospitality is a big deal in Ireland.
Like, a really big deal. I’m not sure how to emphasise this appropriately enough, so you should go an watch Mrs. Doyle’s Best Bits. You don’t feel like it? But sure, whyever not? Go on and watch her now. Ah you will. Go on, Go on, Go on. Go On.
There now. See what I mean?
The thing is though, when someone offers, it’s polite not to snatch the hand off them for a sandwich or a cuppa, no matter how starving or parched you’re feeling. You do the polite refusal. Then they ask are ya sure? You might think you’re safe enough to say yes the second time… but no. You politely refuse again. It’s only on the third time, when they ask are ya REALLY sure, then you can say “Ah go on so, I will, thanks”.
I don’t know why. It’s just how it’s done.
Oh, and don’t forget the crucial thing when this happens in a pub situation. Someone in a group will be feeling flaithulach and get a round in. Yes, I know ye all said ye’d stay on your own and not buy into getting rounds of drinks. It’s just a thing that happens sometimes. Unless you’re stingy, and nobody wants to be stingy.
So, even if you’re still, really, definitely not getting into rounds… you HAVE to buy that person a drink back. Yup, even if they don’t ever wet their lips with it. You just have to.
On that note… Take this Test and figure out if you’re Stingy or Flaithulach, so you can be prepared for these things. You might want to warn folk.
It’s for the best.
It starts with the Sidhe, good readers, The Good Neighbours, or the Fairies as you may know them.
The Irish have a very matter of fact view of the Sidhe, whatever we call them by. Today and tomorrow, hawthorn trees and bushes will be left right alone, because the fairies like to rest there. Best not to disturb them, just in case. It is happening somewhere in Ireland every day, by people who would not, not ever in a million years, think of themselves as any sort of Pagan type.
The fairies are still respected, and largely feared. You don’t annoy them, neither through ignorance or thoughtless action. And a lot of us here in Ireland couldn’t even tell you – or wouldn’t at least – why this is so.
At a time when (mostly innocent) people were being burned and hanged all across Europe, in the tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands – figures are unclear, even yet, but 9 million seems a little on the excessive side), Ireland was relatively unscathed.
Were there less odd old women in rural villages here? Anybody walking through a rural village in Ireland today will likely find themselves tripping over odd old women, so that seems unlikely.
They are a staple of Irish village life, in all their muttering moustachioed glorious strangeness, and I seriously doubt the Middle Ages were any different. So why the lack of burning or hanging for the odd old Irish women, compared to contemporary European counterparts?
A theory of mine is the sheer practical integration of the fairy culture over here. Picture the scene in a small German village (Germany displayed perhaps the most voracious of appetites for witch rooting and killing, whole villages were decimated) – odd happenings abound, milk turns sour, butter won’t churn, children and animals sicken, even die… the villagers begin to look around suspiciously for the cause.
Often, suspicion alights on the odd old woman who lives at the edge of the village, smells a bit peculiar, maybe has a bit of extra knowledge about animals, plants, or healing, and before you know it, the poor oul one finds herself tied to a ducking stool and taking a bath she hadn’t planned for. You get the picture – clichéd, certainly, but these things are clichés for a reason.
Same deal, in an Irish village… the villagers instead begin to wonder if someone has been throwing their dirty wash water out in the wrong place, and look to their own homes for the remedy – a little extra butter left out, or whiskey or cream, a few other bits and pieces of fairy friendly house or farm work that might need to be picked up on again, and that’s that. The odd old woman on the edge of the village gets to stay smelly and dry and muttering to herself for a wee while yet.
And it still holds today. The average Irish person now probably won’t be integrating fairy culture into their everyday life, but when they come across it, either from a modern Pagan type or the old boy down the pub who still remembers, it’s given a respectful listen at least, even if it’s then usually passed over with a casual shrug.
But if it comes in the form of a warning, the listening gets a bit more careful, and there might even be actions taken, or not taken as a result. When asked directly, they will say they don’t believe in fairies, for the most part – but maybe that there’s no harm in being careful.
?Better safe than sorry, right?
Excerpt from ‘A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality’, by Lora O’Brien
2012, Wolfpack Publishers, Ireland.
Tara in the Middle (Meath), Navan Fort in Ulster (North), Dún Ailinne in Leinster (East), Cashel in Munster (South), and Rathcroghan in Connacht (West), were major seats of the Kings and Queens in Iron Age Ireland, while Uisneach is the traditional ‘Navel of Ireland’, where all provinces met.
Activity at these sites stretches from deep roots in the Stone Age, through the Bronze Age, to the height of power during the Iron Age, and even on into Medieval Christian times. Modern spiritual seekers still gather at the sites which are accessible today.
Their presence in the landscape was commanding, sited at strategic and elevated positions, and each grew organically through many phases of use, but always with a similarity of form – as is clear from the Circles and Avenues image – and a distinct spiritual and ritual focus.
What ancient Irish Kings and Queens were inaugurated and lived, were born or buried at these Royal Sites?