March 2018 - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide
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What Do I Put on a Mórrígan Altar?

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’]

Bec Dunn asked: “I want to set up an altar whilst I do this work to connect with Her, are there things to include or definitely not put on?”

Altars are so personal. The short answer is, you can put whatever you want on there.

Me, personally, I always have a real flame on it. That’s not tied to any lore of Hers or anything, it’s just…I don’t know whether that’s a cultural thing for me, or a magical thing, but…I don’t know. It kind of feels like She gets a bit cold sometimes and I like to have a little flame for Her.

It also kind of reminds Her that we’re human and this is what humans do and it’s not necessarily Her nature to want fire or to want a flame, but it is ours. I think that’s always kind of served me well. So, there’s always candles, and when I want to definitely ‘check in with her, the candles are lit and it brings a very clear focus.

And, y’know, obviously, I pick up crow feathers everywhere I go, so there’s lot of different crow feathers from different sites. I’m big on stones and bits of dirt and all the rest of it too, so that’s all good, that’s all on my altar.

I would advise not putting sexualized, male-gaze statues of the Mórrígan on your altar, but again, that’s down to personal taste. Just in case you’re not aware, there has been a lot of backlash (and rightly so) in Facebook Mórrígan groups over deity representation and misogyny,  and particularly representations of the Morrígan for the male gaze, basically where she is holding a sword without the arm strength to do so, and she looks like she’s ready to drop it on her foot. All those kinds of things.

Personally, a lot of the statuary and artwork that’s commercially available at the moment is… well, it really doesn’t do it for me, to be honest.

Image-wise, for the altar then – I’ve always been drawn to images of crows, particularly, and that seems to me to be a good kind of catch-all, particularly if you’re starting out… you can’t really go wrong with those.

There’s some really, really gorgeous ones out there and it’s not going to piss anybody off. I don’t think it’s healthy for us to necessarily put our own interpretations of her, on her. She’s very much a shapeshifter, and her form is formless.

A crow is symbolic of her. A raven, if that’s your thing, but crows specifically are connected to her here in Ireland, rather than ravens. There is one raven reference in the lore, as far as I’m aware, but generally it’s crows. If there’s a choice between a raven and a crow, I would definitely go for the crow.

(thanks to Marjorie for the transcription service from class, much appreciated!)


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Irish Folk Magic – Local Cures

A cure of warts is to squeeze the milk out of a weed called the penny leaf. This milk is called the fairies’ milk.
 
Goat’s milk is a cure for sore eyes or bad feet or many other things. An ointment can be made from goats’ milk to draw boils.
To cure a blast, get leaves from lady fingers, and burn palm to get the ashes. Then shake Easter-water on the ashes and leaves. Drop 9 drops of a blessed candle on it. Put this poultice on the blast three times in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. The person with the blast must not get the poultice ready themselves.
To say this prayer is a cure for a toothache.
Saint Peter sat on a marble rock crying with the toothache.
Our Lord passed by and said “Peter what is they ailment”.
Peter said, “O Lord I am troubled with the toothache”
Our Lord said, Stand up Peter and follow Me”
And those who say these words shall never be troubled with the toothache.
 
There is a well opposite Faithlegg called St. Anna’s well in which sore eyes are cured by bathing them.
A poultice of cow dung is a great cure for many things.
A cure for the whooping cough is to pass the child with the whooping cough under a donkey’s leg three times. Then give the donkey a piece of bread which the child was eating.
Another cure for the whooping cough is if a man and woman with the same name are married to give the child with the whooping cough a piece of bread.
An old cure for a bad chest is to boil some young nettles on water for 3 hours. Then strain it and drink the water every morning.There is a weed called the Seven Virtues. If this weed is boiled on milk it will cure them of any ailment. If it turns brown it shows that the person is not to be cured. If it remains green the person will recover.
Salt water and a certain kind of sea weed boiled is a cure for rheumatism.
A weed called Marchmallow is boiled in water, to use this water is a cure for a bad stomach.
The herb called the dandelion was boiled down and used as a remedy for some form of stomach trouble.
For stopping blood old people used to get a wet sod and put it at the back of a person’s neck. This stopped bleeding from the nose.
A cure for warts was a fasting spit put on for nine mornings and it is said after the ninth morning the wart would disappear.
Goats milk mixed with soap and sugar was considered a great remedy for any forms of sores, as the goat is supposed to eat more herbs than any other animal.
To cure a wart get the juice out of stem of the dandelion and put it on the wart and it will soon disappear.
To get rid of rheumatism put a potato in your pocket and let it wither, according as the potato withers the rheumatism will wear away.
Soap and sugar is a cure for boils.

A good thing to cure any kind of sores is to get a dog to lick them, as there is a cure in the dog’s tongue.

An Aunt of mine- -Mrs Margaret Meade, The Cottage, Halfway House, Waterford had a charm for stopping a bleeding. It was a certain form of words which she repeated. There was a difference between words said to stop bleeding in a human being and those said to stop bleeding in an animal. She used this charm exclusively and it always successful. There is an old man still living in this locality Pierce Meade, Kilcullen, Waterford (age 99 years now) who had a horse which was bleeding to death. He went to her to use the charm. She did so and the horse was cured when he went home. Rev Fr Lennon, Killea, Waterford prevailed upon her to give us using the charm. She did so. The charm could only be transmitted from a woman to a man or vice versa. She intended passing on the charm to her brother before she did, but as she had ceased using it for years the matter was forgotten and the charm died with her.

ARCHIVAL REFERENCE – The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0652, Page 313. Images and data © National Folklore Collection, UCD.  (except the Goat image!)

 

What is a Rath?

Yes, I feckin spelled that right. Thank you.

Rath, not wrath.

Ráth is the Irish term for an archaeological Ringfort, anglicised as Rath – or one of the terms, rather. Others being lios (anglicised lis), caiseal (anglicised cashel), cathair (anglicised caher or cahir) and dún (anglicised dun or doon). [ref Nancy Edwards, ‘The Archaeology of Early Medieval Ireland’, 2006]

A casual perusal of any Irish map or story will show you a whole rake of placenames with at least the anglicised versions of these words built right into them. Like, you can’t miss them. Rathcroghan would be a very famous example; Ráth Crúachán – the legendary home of Connacht Queen Maedbh (Maeve), and the Irish Goddess of battle and prophecy, the Mórrígan.

Ráth and Lios are what we call those earthen enclosure ringforts (with lios having a particular connotation as a fairy fort in more modern times, out of all of them, for some reason), while Caiseal and Cathair both signify a stone ringfort. The Dún then, can refer to any fort really, and it doesn’t even have to be circular either for that one… it’s basically used to signify an important stronghold.

There’s examples of these types of Ringforts in Ireland dated from the Bronze Age onwards (roughly 2500 or 2000 BCE on), but they’re definitely most common in the early Medieval, and they stopped being built probably around 1000 CE.

They came in all sizes really, with the earthen ringforts marked by a circular rampart (a bank and ditch), and they would have had (generally) at least one building inside, but often multiple dwellings and animal enclosures. The majority of them seem to have been domestic, but there’s a strong theory that the later more domestic working Medieval Ráth was  built over or incorporated earlier Bronze and particularly Iron Age dwellings or even ceremonial enclosures, as there’s a distinct relative lack of vernacular housing remains for that period.

Archaeological excavation within some of the Ringforts revealed a lot about their function – there’s some of them with nothing we can find inside, and these have largely been deemed as livestock enclosures, but I’d suggest that an occasional ’empty’ one might just have been ceremonial in nature. In general though there’ll be a large central building found, usually circular, with smaller out-buildings beside or near it. There might be some other stuff too, like cereal drying kilns, or smithing furnaces. It looks like most of them would have been a homestead for small community or extended family, with the protection built in for any dangers roaming round outside the walls or banks.

In Ireland, there’s over 40,000 sites currently identified as Ringforts, and they reckon there would have been at least 50,000 on the island. [ref Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, ‘A New History of Ireland’ Vol 1, 2005]. They are so common in fact, that within any average area of 2 km2 (0.8 sq mi), you’ve a good chance of finding one.

Nowadays, they’re respected and not touched, for the most part, by landowners and communities, as they’re most often referred to as ‘fairy forts’. And you don’t want to go messing with the Good Neighbours now, do ya?

 

[NOTE – Photo Source]

Kite aerial photograph of the Multivallate Ringfort at Rathrá, Co Roscommon, Ireland. April 2016.
Source: West Lothian Archaeology’s camera flown on a kite at the field outing of the Rathcroghan Conference in April 2016. Credit: West Lothian Archaeological Trust (Jim Knowles, Frank Scott and John Wells).


 

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Irish Paganism Q&A with Lora O’Brien

Irish Spirituality Q&A

It’s been suggested a couple of times that I should get on ‘the other side of the interview’, and talk about my own Irish Spirituality, and Pagan or magical practices. So recently I queried my Community for their questions on Irish Paganism and Spirituality (or my history/practice in particular). Then I went on FB Live and recorded the Video, which you’ll see below.

Here’s the Questions our Community asked…

Morgan Daimler what is your favorite subject to teach or write about and why?

Morgan Daimler What do you think is the best way for someone to get started with Irish Spirituality, and how can a person (anywhere) avoid the usual pitfalls of bad information while building an understanding of the spirituality and the Gods and spirits?

Mac Tíre Would you have any advice specifically with regards to connecting to deity (even more specifically An Morrigan) E.g. like what you were saying in your interview with Oein DeBhairduin about contracts. Also appropriate offerings and what NOT to do.

Cat O’Sullivan Sometimes no matter how hard you try to avoid it you end up having to deal with the other crowd (the Good Neighbours, The Sidhe, the Irish Fairies). What would you recommend. Bargain, banter or banish?

Teididh McElwaine Question: Could you recommend how to wisely pursue like-minded, serious people in our respective communities? Thanks! (eg. Pagan community building)

Victoria Danger Yay! What parts of your devotion/practice/spirituality are centered on joy? Tell us about the parts that are fun or feel good 😊

Gemma McGowan Apart from teaching, writing and political activism (which I know is already a lot!!!) what other areas do your Gods ask you to actively work in e.g. Devotional practice, ritual, healing, specific types of magical work?

Cheryl Baker What does daily/weekly/monthly practice look like for you?

Marocatha Bodua Brigiani I’d love to hear you talk about magic vs religion in Irish spirituality – are those pieces separate for you, are they not separate, how do they integrate or not in your practice.

Branwen Stephanie Rogers Aside from the lore and researching, what do you consider foundational to your practice and spiritual well being?

J-me Fae What is a practice that you, personally, would like to see folks outside of Ireland integrating into their work on Irish Spirituality? What do people do that most honors the gods and land you love?

SallyRose Rivers Robinson What altar items do you see as making up an Irish Spiritual altar? Is there specific things that should be there? Specific things that shouldn’t? Is it strictly personal choices?

Pamela Holcombe Question: I hear you say you found yourself Wondering around the Otherworld many times throughout your life before you understood the way of traveling there so curious what your most profound experience was there or scary interesting experience was? Also I find that I sometimes end up on my island in my dreams and travel around in the other world in my dreams do you do that also and do you think it’s pretty much like a journey we do awake? 

Izzy Swanson What Carl Jung book would you read first? I printed a list of his collected works. My head may explode. I am most interested in his definition of the psychopomp.

Darla Majick What do you think about The Morrigan whiskey? I have it on our Morrigan Altar and love the bottle. Its not the best whiskey out there but it’s definitely not the worst. Ive blessed and cleansed ours before just putting in on Her altar. WE did ask her if she liked it and we did not get a negative response from her 

Alanna Butler GallagherHave you ever tried to draw what you saw (in the Otherworld, ref. Pamela’s Q above)? That experience illustrated sounds like it would be a learning point for other people to not do that type of thing for the craic 🤔

J-me Fae Do you have any specific recommendations for parents looking to support their kids in building authentic connection with Ireland? I read the stories to them, share *some* of what I am doing with them (but I’m wary there), and we are all learning Irish together, but at least one of them is hungry for more 

Check the Video for Answers to these Questions, and more!

And a Bonus Q that I missed during the FB Live!

Dawn Shields-Pettitt46:01 Have you ever found that any of your journeys..to other places etc match up with other practitioners?

Lora O’Brien – Irish AuthorDarn I missed this one Dawn Shields-Pettitt… sorry! Yes, I absolutely have. It’s one of the reason I standardised my technique so much – so that we can ‘test’ the Otherworld Journeys we do. That’s all Level 3 stuff, and most folk only work to Level 1 or 2… but I’m hoping as time progresses to be able to do a LOT more testing and exploration around this  Great Question!

Irish Pagan Spirituality Recommended Resources