September 2018 - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide
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Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch – Sneak Peak!

Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch - Original Cover

I’m writing the preface to the second edition of my 2004 book, ‘Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch’ right now, and it has me a little emotional folks.

I’m going to share it here, because I sort of need any encouragment you might be willing to share?

Hit me up in the comments below with your thoughts… and I’d really appreciate some kindness.

PREFACE TO IRISH WITCHCRAFT FROM AN IRISH WITCH (2ND EDITION, 2018)

Oh this book.

It’s the end of 2018 as I write this preface, and I’ve had the publishing rights back from the original publisher for quite a while. To be honest, I’ve been dragging my heels on getting it in print again, despite it being one of the most frequent requests I get.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it or anything. It’s just, I was so VERY young when I wrote it. 26 years old when it was first published, and in such a different place in my life. Of course I’ve grown and changed since then. Of course my personal practice has changed significantly… it would be really weird and kinda sad if it hadn’t, right?

Going deeper into the original lore of Ireland gave me a connection I didn’t have then, even after growing up here and wading through the magic of Ireland my whole life. Digging through digital manuscripts and academic papers and books that weighed more than my kids did, all gave me an insight that shifted my personal practice into a thing that is almost a part of the land itself. And then I spent a good number of years working professionally as a Guardian (manager, they called it, but whatever dudes) at Rathcroghan, and that changed me even more.

So yeah. I’m in a different place right now.

For a long time it made me ashamed of this work. Like I’d done something wrong, or at least – not good enough – in writing it. I mean, that probably says as much about my mental state as anything else, but there you go.

I began to travel to teach, and people would rave at me about how this book changed their perspective, their practice, their life. And I’d be mortified, because I knew I could have written it so much better, helped them so much more.

Until one of those conversations that stops you in your tracks, or maybe derails you a little. But in a good way, coz the tracks were laid all wrong. I met a woman called Victoria at PantheaCon in California, my first year out there, and after a long day of feeling that embarrassment as folks talked about this book, I confessed to her that I didn’t like it. That I should have done better. That I’d like to take it back and re-write it completely.

An’ you know what she said to me?

“You were where you were, back then. And there’s plenty of people who need that book as it is, because they are still there right now.”

Now, I’m paraprasing there. But that was the gist of it. And it floored me.

Because that’s exactly why I wrote this book in the first place. I didn’t want to be an author. I didn’t want to be well known, or in any way… responsible for people. *shudders*

But I wrote the book I had needed, ten years before; when I was 15, and seeking, and desperate for something that felt native and REAL to me, and all I could find were foreign voices, foreign spiritual systems, foreign magic, to try to express or explain the things I had felt and experienced and known – deep down – all of my life.

So I’m putting this book back together, with an updated resource section, a few corrections to the text, some small additions or notes for clarification, but essentially – it’s the same book. I’ll get a fresh round of folk complaining in the reviews that I’m too grumpy or snarky, that I’m expecting too much by saying they should *GASP* make a godsdamn effort to learn the language of the culture they are gaining from, and that the book doesn’t suit them for various reasons of their own devising. Fuck it, and fuck them.

This one is for you folks who are still coming ashore from almost drowning in a sea of ‘celtic’ shite. There’s a lot more work you can do, if this suits you, and you develop a grá for Ireland.

Check those resources (there’s so much more available now, it’s a pleasure to recommend them!), visit my own website LoraOBrien.ie for the blog, the other books, and the classes I teach in my Irish Pagan School there. There’s more developed Guided Journeys on there too, with audio versions, or you can check out the rewards on Patreon.com/LoraOBrien for a monthly download of stories and journeying goodness.

You have options now that we didn’t have when this book first came out, and certainly not back in the 90s in Ireland when I was starting out. Make good use of them! Enjoy them!

I’m not embarrassed anymore, to include this book among them. It’s good enough.


 

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Irish Pagan Beliefs

Irish Pagan Beliefs - Goddess with a Dandelion

The Catholic Church are full of the drama lately that the Irish have reverted to Pagan beliefs, with the drive towards recognition of equality, basic human medical rights, and other such truly shocking things… but the reality is, we never REALLY gave up on our Pagan beliefs.

To get a good look at Irish Pagan Beliefs, there are three things we’ll need to take into account:

  • historic pagan beliefs, ie, pre christian native spirituality
  • the blend of christian and pagan beliefs through folklore and culture
  • modern pagan beliefs, ie, neo pagan spirituality and organisation.

Briefly though, coz any of those things are an essay in their own right. We’ll keep it simple enough here.

 

Historic Pagan Beliefs in Ireland

One of the sources that is often cited for this topic, are Caesar’s writings on Gallic Druidism to Ireland. Now, that’s not really an accurate take on what would have been happening on the ground, on a daily basis, to be honest.

Celtic religion on the continent is better documented, in many ways, but you’ve got to remember that Ireland is an island. And quite removed from the continental Celtic culture, though it started with the same roots. Taking those roots and planting them here has led to a tree growing in Irish soil that is quite different to the parental rootstock, is all I’m saying.

Irish traditions through the ages took in any invaders and blended them with what was here already, a grafting if you like, to truly flog the tree metaphor. Blending is what we do, and we sort of stick to our own ways in the meantime. A bit stubbornly like.

It’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t really work to map our pantheon onto the structure or functionality of other pantheons either. Even Celtic deities don’t quite match up.

In brief though, we can get an idea, some basic concepts at least of the Irish Pagan beliefs, by tracking what we know about the root Celtic Religious beliefs, and what we have in our own native source material; archaeology, mythology and folklore.

  • Birth, death and rebirth – the continuation of life through cycles.
  • Reality and relevance of the Otherworld – not an ‘underworld’, but a whole other world or life that runs parallel to this one.
  • The Otherworld being populated with an entire eco-system of beings, from gods and goddesses to noble or royal Sidhe (fairies) to elemental beings.
  • Importance of meditation, or Journeying, between the worlds.
  • People who had, or could develop, the skills to personify and share deep Wisdom – sacred or special, ‘occult’ (hidden) knowledge.
  • Knowledge and understanding of magic, prophecy, and divination.

 

The Blend of Christian and Pagan Beliefs

Our written sources don’t really begin until the coming of Christianity, which was anytime between the 300s and the 600s CE [Common Era] in Ireland.

Despite what St. Patrick’s hagiographers would have you believe, it wasn’t all about him. Oh no.

As per the above mentioned tendency to take in any invaders and blend them with what was here already, Irish Pagan beliefs began to meld and blend with the quiet incoming flow of Christianity.

As the society and culture shifted, Druids were replaced in function by priests, and it would seem that many of them may have moved with the times and become priests or monks themselves.

This led to rather a lot of pure Pagan beliefs being subsumed into a Celtic Christian church, that then held a lot of beliefs and practices that the Roman Catholic church regarded as wrong, or even sinful.

Spotting a trend here? The roots from elsewhere were finding a fertile, but very different environment on this island, in which to grow and flourish.

Rome squished down a lot of that golden age growth, and we ended up with something very forced, unnatural, and toxic in its place, that has not been at all good for our people as they’ve held power over us.

But the Irish Pagan beliefs still held true in many of the folk ways and practices.

For example, holy well observances that are so very close to tending and utilising a sacred magical spring in Pagan terms. And our relationships with the Good Neighbours, the Other Crowd, the Sidhe or the Fairies, as ye might call them.

Sure, don’t even get me started on that.

 

Modern Pagan Beliefs

Paganism in Ireland has grown since the popularisation in the 1970s, in much the same way as it has elsewhere.

Well. Not quite the same maybe… there’s still that whole pattern of being given a thing and making it our own.

We’re a tribal lot still, you see, and fiercely independent in many ways. We’re also TINY, population wise, compared to Britain or the U.S. And with quite a rural, spread out population.

All of this makes it more difficult to organise – Pagan events, groups, and organisations. It’s all a bit hit and miss, says the one who co-organised our national Pagan Festival (Féile Draíochta) from 2003 til 2016 or so.

But at this point, we have a healthy enough network across the island.

I personally would love to see less focus on non native practices – seriously Nora, we don’t need another Pow-Wow drum or a Siberian Shaman at one of our most important sacred sites for our festivals – and more work being done by native practitioners to (re)create native systems and celebrations of our indigenous spirituality.

However, the folk in Ireland who are doing the work with regards to creating community around our Pagan beliefs are doing a bang up job, if I may say that as ONE of those folk.

Take Pagan Life Rites (Ireland), for example.

This is a non-profit organisation, operated by a nationwide network of Priests and Priestesses, offering a range of services to the greater Pagan community of Ireland.

One of the founding principles is respect and honour of the land and of nature:

“The island of Ireland is our home and Her sovereignty is treated with respect. It is held within Pagan belief generally, but not exclusively, that Deity resides within Nature and is immanent in all that is around us. Therefore, the land we live in and the Earth that we walk upon should also be revered and treated with respect.”

I’m down with that anyway.

No, like literally. I’m one of the founding members of Pagan Lifes Rites, so it’d be weird if I wasn’t, right?

One of the ways we are of service, is to organise a series of Pagan Moots (monthly social and networking meetings) across the island, to facilitate the meeting and connection of people who are interested in Pagan beliefs, and creating community in their local area.

Want to get in touch? – You can find a list of Pagan Moots in Ireland here.

Also of interest – Irish Celtic Pagan Symbols.


 

If you want to get some focused guidance on where (or how) to start exploring an authentic Irish spiritual practice, there are 2 Beginners’ Classes on the Irish Pagan School…

Hopefully, those options give you something solid to be getting going with. If there’s anything else I can do for you, let me know?

Irish Celtic Pagan Symbols

Irish Pagan Symbols on Newgrange Passage Tomb, © 2010 Dept. Environment, Heritage & Local Government.

This is a question that comes up a lot – what are some Pagan Symbols used by the (Celtic) Irish?

It’s kind of a tough one to answer, as we don’t have an extant [surviving through the ages] Irish Pagan tradition, per se. We have a whole lot of Irish mythology, of course, and even more Irish folklore… but no complete system for what it all means, or how to use it.

In modern Irish Paganism, we use many of the same Pagan Symbols as do those in other communities, all over the world. Some of the general Pagan symbols you’ll see at any Irish Wiccan coven meeting or Druid convention include:

  • Pentacle – a 5 pointed star, or pentagram, contained within a circle.
  • Triple Moon – the image of a circular full moon, with a crescent on either side.
  • Eye of Horus – an egyptian stylised eye.
  • Ankh – the looped cross of ancient egypt, symbolising life.
  • Spiral Goddess – the image of a female formed silhouette, arms raised, with a spiral over the womb.
  • Labyrinth – pattern of a pathway that can be followed between worlds.
  • Wiccan Symbols for Air, Earth, Fire, Water – these are based off an equilateral triangle.
  • Horned God – a circle with crescent horns on top of the ‘head’.
  • Tree of Life – common to many cultures, this is the image of a world tree connecting worlds.
  • Mandala – can take many forms, but commonly a square with four gates, containing a circle with a center point within.
  • Rod of Asclepius – a staff with a snake coiled around it, representing healing… often confused with the Caduceus
  • Ouroboros – a serpent eating it’s own tail, representing eternal cycles of death and rebirth.
  • Thor’s Hammer (Mjölnir) – representing the hammer of the Norse God of thunder and storms.

Any or all of these symbols can be (and are!) used by modern Irish Pagans.

 

Historical Irish Pagan Symbols

When we look back a little further into our tradition and lore, we have 2 main sources for native Irish Pagan symbols – stone carvings and manuscripts.

Now, either of those may have been influenced by Christianity, and so not count as truly Pagan, perhaps. It depends on the context for them.

That being said though, everything in Ireland is a little bit Pagan, even still… so we can put that one aside, now that we’re aware of it, and look at the sources.

The best example of this, I’d say, is the Ogham alphabet – our Celtic writing system (and I use Celtic here, and through this post, because much of what we have in Ireland on this topic is common across other Celtic cultures).

Ogham appears both carved in stone, and in multiple manuscripts, so it’s ticking both boxes there. With regard to how old this Celtic alphabet might be: we know it existed as a monument script (there’s that early stone carving), in the 400s CE [Common Era].

It was designed for the Irish language, so we can place in at pre Christian times, probably, through that – if it was just made for the monks, they would more like have designed it through Latin.

Irish Pagan Symbols - the Ogham Alphabet

You can find out more about the Ogham Alphabet here.

 

What other Pagan Symbols were used in ancient Ireland?

It’s back to the stone carving folks, and this time, let’s look at our monuments. One of the more famous ones is Brú na Bóinne, with the 3 great passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.

Built by the Dagda, so they say (and you can read some fascinating stories on that guy right here), these monuments have stood in Ireland for over 5,000 years, and when they were being built, symbolic artwork was a big part of their construction.

Some of it is spectacular: wonderful combinations of spirals, lozenges, chevrons, triangles and arrangements of parallel lines and arcs. It occurs particularly on the structural stones of the tombs but also occurs on some artefacts that have been found within and around them.

Knowth alone has about 45% of all the art known from Irish tombs and nearly 30% of all the megalithic art in Europe.

[Images courtesy of World Heritage Ireland, © 2010 Dept. Environment, Heritage & Local Government.]

What do these Irish Pagan Symbols Mean?

In short, we don’t know. Great answer, right?

We do have theories, of course.

  • The spiral and concentric circles may represent the movement of the sun and stars, a fascination with the changing seasons and how the cycles related to the lives of those who carved them.
  • They might be maps: maps of the area, maps of the otherworld, maps of the stars… or ‘maps’ of music, or energy lines.
  • A strong theory is that the art represents images seen by shamans during rituals, as they are common across many different cultures who most likely wouldn’t have had any contact.
  • These Pagan symbols may well have been used as meditation devices, to guide seekers on Journeys.

Whatever their original purpose, we can utilise them now for any of these reasons as fits with our personal practice. The Irish Pagan symbols that remain to us are an incredibly valuable connection to our ancestors, and the wisdom of ancient Ireland.

I’d love to learn what Pagan symbols call to you, or which ones you make use of? Let me know in the comments below!


 

If you want to get some focused guidance on where (or how) to start exploring an authentic Irish spiritual practice, I’ve just released 2 Beginners’ Classes on the Irish Pagan School…

Hopefully, those options give you something solid to be getting going with. If there’s anything else I can do for you, let me know?

How was the Ogham Alphabet Invented?

Ogham Alphabet - light to illuminate a Cave

Sound and Matter – a Scéal of a Tale of Old Ireland, and the Ogham.

What are the place, time, person, and cause of the invention of the Ogham? Not hard.

Its place – Hibernia, or Ireland as we know it now. In the time of Bres son of Elatha king of Ireland it was invented. Now, that’s not the bad Bres, the half Fomorian who enslaved the Tuatha Dé… ‘tis a different Bres we’re talking about here.

Its person – well that was none other than Oghma. Son of Elatha, son of Delbaeth, and brother to Bres (that’s the same Bres, not the bad Bres). For Bres, Oghma and Delbaeth are the three sons of Elatha, son of Delbaeth there. In case that wasn’t clear.

Now Oghma, a man well skilled in speech and in poetry, invented the Ogham. The cause of its invention was, as a proof of his ingenuity, and that this speech should belong to the learned apart, to the exclusion of rustics and herdsmen. He might not have been a huge fan of rustics or herdsmen, the tales don’t tell us for certain, but sure not many of the nobles were, back then. Except maybe for the Dagda, who never seemed to mind the odd rustic or herdsman in amongst his company.

And that is how the cause of it’s invention is recorded, but is it truly so? Is there more to the tale, that we don’t yet know?

Whence the Ogham got its name, was according to sound and to matter, who are the father and the mother of the Ogham.

Oghma, the first inventor, spoke and sang it in respect to its sound, indeed. According to matter, however, ogum is og-uaim, the little egg hatched in a cave… perfect alliteration, which the poets applied to poetry by means of it. For by letters Gaeilge is measured by the poets, and when they are written are they done.

True too, is that the father of Ogham is Oghma, while the mother of Ogham is the hand or knife of Oghma.

***

The champion sat alone, in the darkness, in the dirt.

His restless hands moved through the clay in which he sat. Scooping, scraping, kneading, shaping, dispersing it back to the floor of the cave, then repeating the process again.

After a time, in the silence, he began a low hum. Starting deep down in his broad chest, it built steadily as it rose through his throat and flowed past his lips, softening and sweetening over his honey tongue as it was released to the air around him.

The cave accepted the sound, as ever she would, with the open arms of amplification and reverberation, gifting the champion his sound back to him, from many angles and in many ways. The essence of Ogham lived in that sound, discharged from the father to the womb of the mother.

It did not exist in our world though, without form, for that is ever the differentiation between the worlds – the formless and the formed.

Taking the clay, imbued with the sound and birthed from the body of the cave, the champion shaped matter, created a small round surface with his hands. And with his knife, he carved what came, shaping the sound around into the matter, twining the two into the first strokes, the early birch, the B.

And with that, a vision came, for the sound and the matter combined did form a gateway to Imbas Forosnai, and the champion saw Lugh, son of Ethliu, in pain as his wife was carried away from him into the Otherworld, and not once but seven times over. And he knew the birch, the Beith, would guard the woman, should Lugh let it, for the Ogham had told him true.

Oghma continued the process, the birth of Ogham, and each little egg he carved hatched a new letter into this world, there in the cave under the mound. And each new letter presented him with fresh Imbas, illuminating his experience, so that he understood. With each birth of sound, and matter, with each new letter, he knew it for a key to the wisdom between the worlds. With each new letter, the focus narrowed, and he learned to insert the key within the lock, and open the doorways to the Knowledge Which Illuminates.

There’s much more to the Ogham, oh and so much more to learn and know… but sure, they’re all stories for another day.

Primary Source –

 [ed.] [tr.] Calder, George [ed. and tr.], Auraicept na n-Éces: The scholars’ primer, being the texts of the Ogham tract from the Book of Ballymote and the Yellow book of Lecan, and the text of the Trefhocul from the Book of Leinster, Edinburgh: John Grant, 1917. 


 

If you’re interested in the Ogham, you might like the Ogham Journeys Course… register your interest at – https://loraobrien.ie/ogham-journeys/

 

This story originally appeared on my Patreon – for $3 per month you can support the writing of these tales, AND receive first access to a new one every single month.

Support Lora O’Brien on Patreon.  —  Buy the Book – Tales of Old Ireland: Retold.

Ogham Resources – the Ancient Gaelic Alphabet

The Journal of Ogam Studies by the Irish Order of Thelema

You’ve heard of the Ogham (or Ogam), the ‘ancient Celtic alphabet’ of Ireland?

Possibly in the context of a ‘Celtic Tree Calendar’, perhaps?

But you’re never sure if the resources you’re finding are genuine, are respectful of the native traditions… or just created by some colonisers cashing in with appropriative, half understood, mostly mangled nonsense?

You might want to know more about our Ogham writing, about Ogham stones, or what’s the real story with this Old Irish alphabet system?

You’re in luck! Have some Ogham resources, checked and curated by your Guide to Ireland, Lora O’Brien. 💚


OGHAM RESOURCES

 

Academic – General

 

  • Kelly, Fergus. The Old Irish Tree-list. https://bill.celt.dias.ie/vol4/displayObject.php?TreeID=1818.
  • Dillon, Myles, and Nora K. Chadwick. Celtic Realms. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967.
  • MacAlister, Robert Alexander Stewart. The Secret Languages of Ireland: With Special Reference to the Origin and Nature of the Shelta Language. Craobh Rua Books, 1997.
  • Macalister, R. A. S. Ancient Ireland: A Study in the Lessons of Archaeology and History. Routledge, 2016.
  • Macneill, Eoin. Phases of Irish History. Bibliolife, 2011.
  • McCone, Kim. Pagan past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature. Department of Old Irish National University of Ireland, 2000.
  • HÓgáin, Dáithí Ó. The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland. Boydell, 2001.

 

Academic – Ogham Specific

 

  • “Calder, G., Auraicept Na n-Éces: The Scholars’ Primer, Being the Texts of the Ogham Tract from the Book of Ballymote and the Yellow Book of Lecan, and the Text of the Trefhocul from the Book of Leinster (1917).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Calder_1917
  • “Carney, J. P., ‘The Invention of the Ogom Cipher’, Ériu 26 (1975).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Carney_1975a
  • “Harvey, A., ‘Early Literacy in Ireland: the Evidence from Ogam’, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 14 (1987).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Harvey_(Anthony)_1987a
  • “McManus, D., ‘Irish Letter-Names and Their Kennings’, Ériu 39 (1988).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/McManus_(Damian)_1988a
  • “McManus, D., A Guide to Ogam (1991).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/McManus_(Damian)_1991a
  • O’Boyle Seán. Ogam, the Poets’ Secret. G. Dalton, 1980
  • “Plummer, C., ‘On the Meaning of Ogam Stones’, Revue Celtique 40 (1923).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Plummer_1923a
  • “Sims-Williams, P., ‘Some Problems in Deciphering the Early Irish Ogam Alphabet’, Transactions of the Philological Society 91 (1993).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Sims-Williams_1993b

 

Modern Pagan

 

  • Irish Order of Thelema. The Journal of Ogam Studies. Lulu Com, 2016.  [Click to Buy]
  • Laurie, Erynn Rowan. Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom. Megalithica Books, 2007.  [Click to Buy]
  • Patton, John-Paul. Poet’s Ogam: a Living Magical Tradition. Lulu Com, 2011.  [Click to Buy]

 


 

Once per year, I run an ‘Ogham Journeys’ online programme. Over the course of 25 weeks, students begin to develop their deep, fulfilling, lifelong relationship with the Ogham.

If you want to know more, REGISTER HERE.

BONUS – you’ll get a welcome email with a PDF copy of this ogham resources guide to download when you do!

Aileen Paul (USA) said: This course was rich in its information, enough that I need to go back a second time and spend more time with each Ogham to more fully experience them. The time commitment is the main obstacle for a busy person, but the personal relationship with the Ogham is worth the effort. It sets you up for a lifetime relationship with the Ogham.

Cat Dubh (Ireland) said: This is a course that truly does create a deep and meaningful ongoing relationship with the Ogham. I have studied the Ogham for many years and this course brought me to a whole new level of knowledge and understanding. The study material, the journeys/meditations, and the personal creativity tapped, has been and will continue to be second to none. Lora O’Brien, as Guide Extraordinaire through this Ogham course, is also second to none. Highly recommended.

FIND OUT MORE!