As any witch will know, you take good care of where your hair and nails end up. And with whom. So here’s some advice from the native Irish Folklore tradition on best practices around your own nail care.
Avoid cutting your nails on Sunday. it is thought that whoever does so is followed closely by the Devil the following week. A very old rhyme was made about this : Cut them on Monday, you cut them for news Cut them on Tuesday, a new pair of shoes Cut them on Wednesday, you cut them for wealth Cut them on Thursday, you cut them for health Cut them on Friday, a sweetheart you’ll know Cut them on Saturday, a journey you’ll go Cut them on Sunday, you cut them for evil For all the next week, you’ll make friends with the devil.
The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0638, Page 340 https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4428104/4378363
There are a couple more Irish folklore traditions around the nails that I’ve heard of growing up.
On ‘Holy Thursday’ (the day before ‘Good Friday’), people don’t clip their fingernails or cut their hair.
To keep a child from biting their nails, a piece of soot was put on the fingernails.
You should cut the nails off your toes and the nails off your fingers and a bit of your hair the night before November’s Night (Samhain, Hallowe’en) and then leave them under a stone to help to banish your sins. If you believe in sins.
They used to say that if you have white spots on your nails you will have to earn your living overseas, and that the number of times you will travel by sea is shown by the number of white dots on your nails.
When just 1 year old, she sat on her kitchen floor in a pool of blood, beside a mother who would never move again.
This is not the opening scene of a modern crime tv show, but the start of life in 1890’s rural Ireland for one of the world’s most daring and trailblazing aviators, who became known in later life as Lady Mary Heath.
The story begins with her mother, an attractive tall brunette named Kate Theresa Doolin, who started her life in a respected farming family (though a few of them were known to have a fondness for the drink, but sure who didn’t in Ireland back then?) with land at Causeway, near Tralee in County Kerry. When working in a nearby town, young Ms. Doolin met a handsome, wild and often charming man called Jackie Pierce (John Pierce-Evans). She took a job as housekeeper for his uncle in Knockaderry, near Newcastle West in County Limerick, and later married Jackie in a ceremony in Dublin City.
Their daughter, Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Peirce-Evans, was born on the 10th November, 1896. Just a year later, she was being gathered up from her kitchen floor by distraught neighbours, taken from beside the cooling body of her mother, who had been bludgeoned to death with a stout stick earlier that day, by Sophie’s own father Jackie.
John Pierce-Evans was found guilty (but insane) at the murder trial, and locked up, while his daughter was brought to live with her Grandfather in Newcastle West, and raised in a rather restrictive fashion by her two maiden aunts there. Though she showed an early talent and passion for sports, her female relatives discouraged and even outright forbid this ‘unladylike’ interest. Sophie’s schooling brought her to County Cork, County Armagh, and finally to Dublin, where she could play hockey and tennis and excel at both. Third level education took her to the Royal College of Science in Ireland, as one of very few women there, but the country needed educated farmers and so she was allowed in. Sophie gained a top-class degree in science, specialising in agriculture, and played for the college hockey team.
World War 1 brought her to England and France, serving as a dispatch rider for 2 years, and by the time she moved from Ireland to Scotland, her reputation for being an “unsuitable” influence on women preceded her. Just after the war, Sophie received a University placement in Aberdeen, and as she had married her first husband, started life in the UK as Sophie Mary Eliott-Lynn. Her Irish aunts were aghast at the thought of the bad impression she might make on her young cousins, writing to their mother with the admonition “For Mercy’s sake, Lily, don’t let Sophie get hold of the girls.”
Moving from Scotland to London in 1922, it was clear sports had a firm hold of her. She helped found a Women’s Association which became the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association in 1926, and she served as the joint secretary while continuously campaigning for the inclusion of a full women’s programme at the Olympics. She set a world record for the High Jump, and became the first women’s javelin champion in Britain. In 1925 she had travelled as a delegate to the International Olympic Council, and it was there she first took flying lessons. Her book (the first of its kind), entitled ‘Athletics for Women and Girls’, was published the same year. By 1926 she was representing the UK at javelin at the Women’s International Games in Gothenburg, and came 4th, throwing 44.63 metres. Her Irish records for the shot and discus were not bettered until the 1960’s.
From 1925 through to 1929, Sophie was probably the most famous Irish woman on the planet. Those first few flying lessons turned into a burning passion for aviation, and she shifted her pioneering spirit to the skies. Though Amelia Earhart had been firing imaginations and setting records since 1922, Britain was not ready to embrace female liberation, and Sophie fought prejudice and ignorance to become the first woman in Britain or Ireland to get her commercial pilot’s license. Her test included proving to a panel of men that she could control an aircraft… at all times of the month.
Her first marriage had not been a happy one, and she was estranged from her husband, Major William Elliot Lynn, when he died in early 1927. Immediately she sought a new husband, preferably one who could finance her flying until she could make a living from it, and made a list of the wealthiest British bachelors. On selecting and marrying Sir James Heath – who was 45 years her senior – on 11 October 1927, she became Lady Heath (though she is often referred to as ‘Lady Mary Heath’). By then she had already set a number of altitude records for small aircraft, and also for a heavy Shorts seaplane. Lady Heath landed quite spectacularly in the middle of a football match after becoming the first woman to parachute from a plane, and in 1927, was the first female pilot to win an open race.
American newspapers loved her, calling her “Britain’s Lady Lindy” (after Charles Lindberg), but her exploits also made the front pages in Ireland, Britain, South Africa, France and the Netherlands. She planned to fly home from Lecturing in South Africa to become the first pilot, male or female, to fly a small open-cockpit aircraft from Cape Town to London, landing at Croydon Aerodrome. Taking off in January 1928, it took her 3 months rather than her planned weeks, but on the 17th May her Avro Avian biplane made a successful if bumpy landing in England. Despite having piloted and maintained the plane through 9,000 miles, then 32-year-old stepped to greet the swarming crowd looking fabulous in heeled shoes, silk stockings, pleated skirt, fur coat and a cloche hat.
Lady Heath was determined to earn her way as a pilot. She would give joyrides at air shows, and she often flew back to Ireland, where thousands would gather on her arrival to see the airplane and pay her to go up in it, if they could afford it. She’s remembered in Ballybunion, County Kerry, where she’d go to visit her aunt Cis, by local lads who still say “she was good at the sales talk”; there’d always be more ready to go up with her once the last lot had shakily departed her plane. She turned that silver tongue to lobbying for a job as a commercial pilot, and eventually succeeded with the Dutch airline KLM. Though it didn’t last – the Dutch and British Press turned on her quite viciously and she was losing her public standing very rapidly – for a time she flew as first officer on European routes. Another record was achieved – she was the first woman to fly a commercial aircraft.
Surprised and hurt by the European backlash she had received, Lady Heath took up an invitation to lecture and promote flying in the USA. She had met Amelia Earhart when the American crossed the Atlantic and landed in London, and invited her to fly in the Avro Avian. Earhart had been so impressed she had promptly bought the biplane and took it back to America with her. Following across the Atlantic made sense, and by then the proper training of pilots and ensuring reliable equipment had started to feature strongly for Lady Heath.
In July 1929, she wrote an article for Scientific American magazine, entitled ‘Is Flying Safe?’ Worldwide, flying had become very popular, and in Britain by then graduating pilots had to have at least 10 hours of instruction before they were let go up, with hundreds of men and women becoming pilots each year. Lady Heath believed that well-trained pilots, and construction standards, were the most important factors of airline safety. In Britain, in early 1928, 45,000 flights had been made with no accidents reported. She could see that America had the fastest growing commercial airline industry, with Stout Air Services in business since 1925, and passenger safety was a big concern.
Only a month after her article appeared, on 29 August 1929, Lady Heath crashed her plane into a roof while practising a dead-stick landing at the National Air Races in Cleveland. She sustained a fractured skull, broken nose and internal injuries, with newspapers reporting that her recovery was unlikely. She did survive, but the accident ended her piloting career. Her second marriage ended too; she divorced Lord Heath in 1930.
After remarrying (an English airman G.A.R. Williams in 1931), and moving back to Dublin, she founded her own private aviation company. She also founded the Irish Junior Aero Club, teaching young pilots to fly, and forming the bedrock for the national Aer Lingus airline which followed.
Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Peirce-Evans, the great Lady Mary Heath, died of head injury following a fall while on a tramcar in 1939 – the fall was thought to have been caused by an old blood clot – at the age of 42.
You’ve heard a lot about the health benefits of meditation by now, right?
I know, I know, some of that has been from me, in previous blog posts… But I’m not alone in thinking that meditation can change the world, and change your own life in so many wonderful ways.
Every celebrity seems to be meditating these days. Hugh Jackman, Angelina Jolie, Clint Eastwood, Madonna, Jet li, Eva Mendes… the list goes on and on.
They all meditate daily, and quite a number of them attribute their success, health, energy and even their good looks to a regular practice that gives them all the benefits of meditation.
When you’re just starting out though, there’s a lot of information out there. It can all get a bit overwhelming.
Even later on for those of us who know what we’re looking at, there’s a lot to take in.
So let’s break down the top 3 health benefits of meditation. With sources, so you know we’re telling the absolute truth.
The Health Benefits of Meditation
Meditation Reduces Anxiety
Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress.
We all get anxious at times – it’s that feeling of fear and apprehension about what’s to come; the worry, over-thinking things and getting stuck in mental loops.
But if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, for example if they last for longer than six months, or if they’re interfering with how you live your life… you may have an anxiety disorder.
A report in 2014 looked at 16 studies among 1,295 participants, examining the effects of the ‘transcendental meditation’ technique on people with anxiety.
First of all, the meditation technique absolutely did no harm. I mean, that’s important when you’re dealing with cases of chronic anxiety, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and prison inmates in extremely stressful conditions.
Did it do any good though?
“Conclusion: Transcendental Meditation practice is more effective than treatment as usual and most alternative treatments, with greatest effects observed in individuals with high anxiety”. (Orme-Johnson & Barnes, 2014)
Meditation Decreases Depression
Depression is a mental health condition which can affect your thinking, energy, feelings and behaviour.
It’s really common (about 1 in 10 people are suffering from it at any one time, though in many it comes and goes seemingly at random through our lives), and can vary from mild to severe.
Depression can have a profound impact, affecting every aspect of our lives, our relationships, our work and of course, will also have a knock-on effect on the rest of our health.
A report in 2015 looked at 18 studies among 1,173 patients having acute major depressive episodes, and those with residual subacute clinical symptoms despite initial treatment. So, those in the midst of full scale depression, and those with on-going regular symptoms.
The studies covered 7 distinct meditation techniques, with mindfulness based meditation making up the largest proportion of studies.
They found that there were “moderate to large reductions in depression symptoms within the group” and they concluded that there is “a substantial body of evidence [which] indicates that meditation therapies may have positive effects on patients with clinical depressive disorders, during the acute and subacute phases of treatment.” (Fain, Walsh, et al, 2015)
Meditation Improves Sleep
Ever suffer from insomnia?
About half of us will, at some point in our lives.
For some people, it’s an ongoing issue through our whole lives. Insomnia is the most common reported sleep disorder, and there are limited treatment options (which mostly involve medication).
Now, don’t think for a second that there’s anything wrong with taking medication. That’s unusual to hear from an ‘alternative therapy’ source right?
The way we see it though, there are a lot of mental health and situational conditions people go through in their lives that require standard medical intervention. We’d never interfere with that, no more than we’d advise anyone to stop taking heart medication if they had a heart condition, or chemotherapy if they needed that for cancer treatment.
Standard medical practice saves (and improves the quality of) lives every day. Where we see a problem is if that’s viewed as the one and ONLY way to treat or support a person, which sadly is often the case.
But it doesn’t have to be.
A 2014 study looked at the treatment of 54 adults with chronic insomnia, to evaluate the efficacy of mindfulness meditation for the treatment of their chronic insomnia.
Some meditated, and some didn’t, to provide a control or comparison group. The participants who meditated used either a mindfulness based stress reduction technique (like our 5 Minute Body Scan, only a bit longer), or a mindfulness based therapy specifically designed for insomnia.
“Conclusion: Mindfulness meditation appears to be a viable treatment option for adults with chronic insomnia, and could provide an alternative to traditional treatments for insomnia.” (Ong, Manber, et al, 2014)
There are many, many more benefits to a regular meditation practice, and many different techniques and systems you can try to access the benefits of meditation for yourself.
Why not give our free Guided Meditation mini course a go, and get some of the health benefits of meditation in your own life?
Jain, F. A., Walsh, R. N., Eisendrath, S. J., Christensen, S., & Cahn, B. R. (2015, 03). Critical Analysis of the Efficacy of Meditation Therapies for Acute and Subacute Phase Treatment of Depressive Disorders: A Systematic Review. Psychosomatics, 56(2), 140-152. doi:10.1016/j.psym.2014.10.007
Ong, J. C., Manber, R., Segal, Z., Xia, Y., Shapiro, S., & Wyatt, J. K. (2014, 09). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia. Sleep, 37(9), 1553-1563. doi:10.5665/sleep.4010
Orme-Johnson, D. W., & Barnes, V. A. (2014, 05). Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Technique on Trait Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(5), 330-341. doi:10.1089/acm.2013.0204
Guided Meditation is a particular meditation technique, which just means ‘meditation with the help of a guide’, so you don’t have to try and follow a path all alone.
We could all use a little help and guidance sometimes, right? Especially when you’re just beginning your meditation practice. It can be a bit overwhelming. There is a lot to try and take in, and a lot to learn.
When you begin your journey to a regular meditation practice, you can access guided meditation audio, video, and scripts in the Irish Pagan School, and on Patreon; as well as interesting articles and resources on guided meditation journeys here on the blog, to try and make it easy for you to get going, and enjoy the benefits of meditation in your own life.
Guided meditation is one of the easiest ways to enter a relaxed state, especially if you know and trust the voice that is leading you through your meditation journey.
What Happens During a Guided Meditation?
There are as many types of guided meditation as there are teachers and guides who do it, as everyone does things a little differently. They all follow the same basic pattern though.
First, you close your eyes, find a comfortable position, and take a deep breath. Your guide may lead you to spend a little time counting your breaths and focusing there, or you may be guided towards a ‘body scan’ that checks through your body to find (and release) any stress or tension.
As things are so different across traditions and teachers, I’ll use the example of how I do things, for clarity. In the particular technique I practice, there is then a ‘journey’ that I take you on. In my system, you progress from opening with this easy and relaxed meditative state, to a soothing ‘floating within the darkness’ phase. This is all still at Ground Level; it’s guided meditation for complete beginners, or those who are restarting a regular practice.
Ground Level is excellent for deep relaxation – it’s a fundamentally useful ‘calm your mind’ meditation technique that ANYONE can achieve, with a little practice.
When we progress to Level One, through different specific guided meditation journeys, we visit a soothing beach environment. There are multiple options at this point, which all focus on self development and personal growth, but are also perfect if you’re seeking that deep relaxation meditation experience.
The most important part in these guided meditation journeys though, and the bit that far too many ‘trained practitioners’ or teachers seem to forget about, is bringing you BACK safely after leading you off on a journey.
Sounds important, right? It is.
What Will You Experience During A Guided Meditation?
What you experience during a guided meditation depends on a number of factors, such as:
Your own levels of skill with concentration or focus and visualisation (we build this through regular practice, just like doing gentle repetitive exercises when starting off at the gym – this is why we begin with Ground Level guided meditations before we progress to guided journeys).
How comfortable you are with, and how much you trust, your guide (for example, a jarring voice or harsh accent is never a good thing).
The skill of your guide, both in creating the guided meditation, and in leading you through it.
All being well, the guided meditation process will lead you to engaging deeply in visualisation as you follow the guidance, and this leads to generating mental imagery that can simulate or re-create the sensory perception. Over time and with practice, you can experience sights, sounds, tastes, smells, movements, and images associated with touch, such as texture, temperature, and pressure, in a truly ‘real’ manner, which is the best way to fully engage with the deepest levels of mindfulness meditation.
On a guided meditation journey, perhaps a little later at Level One in this technique, you will be guided to engage with journey content that you may experience as defying conventional sensory categories. In other words, you can defy what’s ‘real’, and have self development and personal growth experiences akin to waking dreams, as you are using the same part of your brain that is responsible for your dream state.
This can lead to strong emotions or feelings… hence why we feel it’s very important to make sure everyone we lead on a guided meditation journey gets ‘back’ safely, and is settled and well afterwards!
What Are The Benefits Of Guided Meditation?
There is a wealth of clinical practice, scholarly research, and scientific investigation that centres on the benefits of guided meditation.
In short, guided meditation has been proven to:
Lower levels of stress
Minimize the frequency, duration, and intensity of asthmatic episodes
Control and manage pain
Develop coping skills
Improve ability to carry out demanding tasks in exacting situations
Decrease the incidence of insomnia
Abate feelings of anger
Reduce occurrences of negative or irrational thinking
Raise levels of optimism
Enhance physical and mental aptitude
Increase general feeling of well-being and self-reported quality of life
Now, who wouldn’t want any of that?!
Guided meditation – and later on as you progress, guided meditation journeys – with a skilled, trusted practitioner or teacher, is a well established and effective way to bring all the benefits of meditation into your life.
Materials include Ground Level and Level One techniques, suitable for complete beginners, or those of you who may have stepped off the path a little and would like to get back on track with a guide you can trust.
Anxiety reduction through meditation. (1985). PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e361312004-009
Epstein, G., Barrett, E. A., Halper, J. P., Seriff, N. S., Phillips, K., & Lowenstein, S. (1997, 02). Alleviating Asthma With Mental Imagery. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 3(1), 42-52. doi:10.1089/act.1997.3.42
Kosslyn, S. M., Ganis, G., & Thompson, W. L. (2001, 09). Neural foundations of imagery. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2(9), 635-642. doi:10.1038/35090055
Menzies, V., Taylor, A. G., & Bourguignon, C. (2006, 01). Effects of Guided Imagery on Outcomes of Pain, Functional Status, and Self-Efficacy in Persons Diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 12(1), 23-30. doi:10.1089/acm.2006.12.23
Ong, J. C., Manber, R., Segal, Z., Xia, Y., Shapiro, S., & Wyatt, J. K. (2014, 09). A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Insomnia. Sleep, 37(9), 1553-1563. doi:10.5665/sleep.4010
When I started studying psychology in 2011, with the National University of Ireland in Maynooth, I was very surprised to see ‘mindfulness’ on our lesson plan for the first term.
You see, I knew mindfulness was a form of meditation, because I’d been practicing it in a spiritual context since 1994, when I’d picked up my first book on Paganism.
I knew that science (yes, naysayers, psychology is a science!) didn’t usually give much credence to Pagan practices… so I was both fascinated and delighted to find it right there in front of me in class.
As my studies continued (and to be honest, they’ve never really stopped, though I’m not in formal education anymore), I became more and more enthralled with the science of meditation, and the benefits of a regular meditation practice. I had a key question that I keep revisiting – what is meditation, and how do you do it?
And that’s never stopped either!
But yeah, what is Meditation, exactly?
You’ll hear people talk a lot about different techniques of meditation (mindfulness is one of them, for example), and different types of meditation (meditation for sleep, meditation for relaxation, meditation for anxiety or stress relief, and so on)… but at its essence, what you are trying to do when you meditate is to reach a place of deep peace, with your mind being calm and silent, yet completely alert.
Meditation then, is the practice of methods that can be used to reach this place or achieve this state.
To get there, we can use any number of techniques. Honestly, the range of practices available can be entirely overwhelming. Meditation has been practiced for as long as we know, in a number of ancient religions and belief systems. Personally, I believe every ancient culture had its own form of ‘meditation’, though our ancestors wouldn’t have called it that.
The English word meditation is derived from the Latin meditatio, from a verb meditari, which means ‘to think, contemplate, devise, ponder’ (Bailey, 1776).
So, as far as meditation techniques and practices go, the WORD meditation is relatively new.
But the formal definition we have now, runs like this:
“Meditation: to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.” (Merriam-Webster, 2018)
Since the 1800s, people in industrialised cultures have been picking up the practice with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain… and increasing peace, perception and wellbeing (Shaner, Kelly, et al, 2016).
Mindfulness, as mentioned, is gaining a fantastic reputation over the last 20 years or more, for being a science-based meditation technique, with a focus on the health and wellness benefits of a regular meditation practice (although the spiritual aspects certainly follow through with this method too).
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme in 1979, has defined mindfulness as ‘moment to moment non-judgmental awareness’ (Kabat-Zinn, 2015).
We can sit or lie down, set some time aside and devote our attention to the mindfulness meditation by using body scan techniques, or observing as our thoughts arise and letting them go.
Or we can practice mindfulness day to day as we go about our lives, for example by focusing our attention on sensations of heat or cold in our bodies as we experience them, or by becoming fully aware of the taste, smell and texture of food as we eat it.
If you’d like to try some free ‘Ground Level’ meditation exercises, you can find them as part of our Getting Started Course – to get the benefits of mindfulness meditation for yourself…
Seanchaí Storytellers receive a unique Tale of Ireland, Retold – $3 per month.
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There are other reward tiers and benefits, but if you want more on that just pop over to My Patreon and take a look. The point I’m making is… each month, I look for inspiration for the Irish Folklore or Irish Mythology story to write, the Guided Journey to create and record, and the Sacred Site to visit.
This month (November 2018), I will be visiting one of the oldest Ogham stones in the country.
Ogham of the Wolves
Now, it’s notoriously difficult to date stone, particularly when a lot of the Ogham Stones in Ireland have been moved out of context from their original positions and functionality.
But we know this one is pretty feckin’ old due to the lack of vowel affection… but I also love the inscription, which has been translated as: “Of Conda son of the descendant of of Nad-Segamon”.
The truly cool part of that though? (I mean besides the fact that we’re reading an inscription in an ancient script and language from 1600 years ago? Coz that bit’s pretty cool too, right?!)
The primitive name Cuna, or more recently Conda, means ‘champion of wolves’.
Champion of Wolves!
And so we get to the part – eventually – where I’m wanting to learn more about wolves in Ireland.
Wolves in Irish Folklore
When I’m researching for my Patreon Stories each month, if I don’t have a particular character or deity from Celtic mythology or Irish legends that I want to have a look at, I’ll often dip into the Schools’ Collection over at Dúchas, the National Folklore Archive. It’s an amazing resource, do go and check it out.
Flipping through the transcribed Irish folklore tales about wolves, a particular one piqued my interest.
Only the second page of it was transcribed, so I quickly typed up the first page and registered it for approval (please do consider some transcription volunteering if you’re up for that!). Here’s the result, it’s not long:
Once upon a time there were two wolves on the Sliabh an Iarann mountains. The wolves used to kill everything they used to catch on the mountain. The people of the district sent for a man named Gildary (Gildea) to shoot the wolves. When the wolves would hear a whistle they would come to the place where the whistle was let. Gildea went up to the mountain and he started to whistle and one of the wolves came. Gildea fired at him. He had to hit him on the head between the two eyes on the star of his forehead. He had to shoot him with crooked sixpences. He fired several times at the wolf. At last he fell dead in the river which bounds Slievenakilla and Carntulla. The water ran red with his blood from the place where he died down to Lake Allen. After that the other disappeared. The wolf that was shot was much longer than a dog. The people were very glad when the wolf was killed because they could graze their cattle and sheep on the mountain then.
Sliabh an Iarann – the Iron Mountain – in County Leitrim is associated with the Tuatha Dé Danann.
Wolves coming to a whistle. I mean, that’s not natural wolf behaviour.
The star on the forehead of the wolf, which may indicate an Otherworld marking?
Shooting with ‘crooked sixpences’… what’s that about eh?
Sitting with it for a while, a story began to formulate, about the Tuatha Dé Danann – what happened to the members of the tribe who weren’t big names in the tales?
All of the elements matched up within the story I was telling, but I was a little stumped still about those crooked sixpences.
The Killing of Wolves with Magic
At first I thought about maybe a werewolf/silver connection, and wondered if my friends who study Irish lore as I do would have any insight.
Morgan Daimler, as usual, was exceptionally helpful (GRMA mo chara). But even they hadn’t come across the sixpence thing specifically.
Going with the possible wolves and silver bullets connection, I began to research what the old Irish sixpence was made of (Nickel, then a Nickel and Copper alloy), but that didn’t shed any light.
It was only when I saw the picture and was reminded of what it looked like that things started to make sense. An Irish Sixpence carried the image of a wolfhound. So, we’re into sympathetic magic territory now.
If I want to charm a weapon to harm a specific being, a great way to do it is to use an image to represent that being, name it for the target, and then bend or break the weapon – symbolically killing the being that it represents.
Now, if you add the physical element of doing that symbolically and energetically, and then using the bent weapon to literally shoot the target… there folks, we have ourselves some powerful magical weaponry. Powerful enough to kill a member of the Aos Sí.
Excited as I was to include this element in my story, I did a quick check in with myself (and my good friend Morgan), to make sure I wasn’t twisting the tradition in any way to suit my own ends.
Cultural Appropriation is difficult when it’s your own culture, granted, but I do still like to stay aware and make sure my work is faithful and respectful at all times.
Satisfied that what I wrote is “fair and true to the spirit of the folklore”, I finished the rest of the story.
Which sort of ended up accidentally also as a gay wolves love story, a little in passing, but there you go. Homosexuality is also fair and true to the spirit of the Irish tradition, as it happens 🌈👍
A Story about Wolves
And that my friends, is an example of how we can unravel Old Magic in Irish Folklore. I teach a LOT more about Irish Magic in my courses on the Irish Pagan School:
The story we’re discussing is for Patrons only currently (but if you sign up for $3 now you’ll get instant access to that story PLUS over a year’s worth of other Tales of Old Ireland, and a new one every single month!) – Sign Up for $3 Here.
Or, if you’re reading this in December 2018 or beyond, you can go read the story right now…
Meditation and mindfulness are vital parts of any Pagan practice, and often they are either ignored by teachers, or it’s presumed that a student will simply… know how to do it.
Spoiler: most Western people don’t just *know* how to do meditation.
It’s a discipline which takes years to build: starting with simple breathing and visualisation exercises, and moving on to more involved practice such as guided meditation and Journeying in other worlds, for learning and healing purposes (primarily).
I’ve been actively meditating as part of my personal spiritual practice for over 22 years, and have been teaching my own Meditation and Guided Journeying technique – online and in person – to international audiences since 2013.
My basic technique was developed for beginners, over the course of a 20+ year personal journey, and in line with psychological best practice, to make relaxing meditation and Journeying in the Irish otherworld safe and accessible for everyone.
Guided Meditation is probably the most widely relatable and understood term for how I teach you to Journey in the Irish Otherworld, which comes easily and quickly after building a foundational daily meditation habit.
Journeying in the Irish Otherworld
The Guided Meditation system you can learn with me is unique, and strongly rooted in my native Irish culture.
We start at Ground Level, and later levels fulfil a deep spiritual longing for ancestral connection and continuance, while the foundations you can build on will remain useful and suitable for anyone who just wants to learn a practical way to meditate – particularly if you’ve never been able to do that before!
We begin with simple, easy relaxation and mindfulness meditations, to build a habit and develop the necessary skillset to progress. This is ‘Ground Level’, if you like, for the complete beginner – or those who want to take a refresher with a new voice. As a bonus, it’s all done with my soothing Irish accent. 😉
Ground Level practice offers daily exercises for Mindful Breathing, Body Scanning, and moving into a Relaxed Darkness that will prepare you for further Journeying.
Level One progresses to exploring our inner selves and how we relate to the world, and other people, in the setting of a soothing beach.
Level Two introduces you to the Islands of the Irish Otherworld, and how to work with them to create a safe and practical workspace.
Leve Three travels further into the Irish Otherworld, exploring the stories, mythology; the teaching themes and methods of ancient Draoí, the Druids of Old Ireland.
As the Irish Pagan School curriculum progresses, more courses will be offered that will build a solid meditation and mindfulness practice for anyone willing to put in the work. The benefits of meditation are immense, and I will be expanding on them as we go through this series of articles.
Currently, the Ground Level exercises, as well as our Level One Introductory Class and Guided Meditation Journey to the Beach, are available completely free in the Irish Otherworld Journeys – Getting Started Mini Course on the Irish Pagan School.
When you have completed the classes and practiced the meditation techniques at Ground Level and Level One, there are other options for you to learn from, such as the Level Two: Irish Otherworld Journeys – Next Steps.
Why are you offering a free Guided Meditation Course – What’s the Catch?
I am a Priest and a Draoí of the Old Religion of Ireland. As such, I have a duty of service and responsibility to my community, and to any who want to connect to Ireland in an authentic way.
Yes, I could charge for the free courses I offer through the Irish Pagan School. To be honest, I think folk might appreciate them more, and do more work with the materials, if they were paying for it. 🤷♀️ Such is the nature of humanity!
BUT, there’s plenty to pay for if you want to support the work I do. This one is a gift from a Draoí, for free.
Just like the question of how we do our Paganism – the other question of how it all began is a little… contentious. In some camps.
We know of course, that what we’re doing now in our various spiritual traditions is derived from, and continually inspired by (even in some cases closely related to), ancient sources.
There is an unfortunate history of ‘fakelore’ within the early movement however, that has caused considerable damage, and I’d hope we have, as communities, moved on from all that. I’m talking about those made up stories that involve initiation or training by a Grandmother, Grandfather, or other relative who is said to have instructed some of our community elders in the secret, millennia-old traditions of their ancestors.
Maybe there’s the odd one of these that’s true, but even at that, we’ve no way of knowing how far back these ‘secret traditions’ go. I mean, how do you really KNOW that your Granny wasn’t a scammer, if she told you a story like this?
My own Nana has told me stories about older relatives who were doing what I’d class as magic spells and seasonal observances, and my Granny on the other side told me that my tales of the Good Neighbours here in Ireland (the fairies, but we generally don’t like to call them that out loud) were exactly what her granny was doing on the daily, when she’d visit with them on their farm.
None of that means we have a family tradition of ancient witchcraft, or fairy doctoring, through either of my bloodlines.
It’s sad that folk feel so insecure in their own communities or beliefs that they invest so much energy in upholding such stories. Just get on with things as they are, will you?
Decolonising our NeoPaganism
We have a contemporary religious movement right now that can support or even revive traditional, indigenous, or native religions; if we make sure the work we do to decolonise our NeoPagan spiritual practice is in line with modern standards of it not being cool to just take things that don’t belong to you, and do what you fancy with them.
The early roots of NeoPaganism lie in the romanticist and national liberation movements that developed in Europe from the 1700s CE to the early 1900s.
The work of scholars and scoundrels such as Johann G Herder, George MacGregor-Reid, Douglas Hyde, WB Yeats, Alexander Carmichael, JG Frazer, Jacob Grimm, Aleister Crowley and Charles G Leland (listed here in no particular order of preference or endorsement!) led to an interest in folklore, folk customs, occultism, and mythology, and to a growth in cultural self-consciousness and pride.
How many of those dudes were a part of the native cultures from which they drew so heavily, and ultimately profited off (whether in money or credibility)?
Leland, mentioned above, was perhaps the earliest to write specifically on a modern witchcraft tradition, when in 1899 he published ‘Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches’, which is supposed to contain the traditional beliefs of Italian witchcraft as gifted to him by his ‘witch informant’, a woman named Maddalena. This one has definitely been disputed as ‘fakelore’, but some still believe it to be true… either way, it had a specific and measurable influence on the development of Traditional Wicca in Britain.
Anthropologist Margaret Murray – an early feminist – added fuel to the slow burning fires when in the 1920s when her books theorised that the witch trials of Early Modern Christendom were an attempt to extinguish a surviving pre-Christian, pagan religion devoted to a Horned God. Again, this is still much disputed, but again, we can see that her work had a huge influence over the development of Wicca.
Gardner – the Grandaddy of NeoPaganism
And that is where we can definitively pinpoint the beginning of contemporary NeoPaganism – with a guy called Gerald Brousseau Gardner. He was a retired British civil servant, who lived from 1884 to 1964, and had spent much of his adult life in Malaysia (with a three year stint in Borneo), becoming fascinated with a variety of occult beliefs and magical practices.
He returned to England in 1936, at the age of 52, with his first book, ‘Keris and Other Malay Weapons’, published that year. He wrote his second book, the fiction work ‘A Goddess Arrives’, inspired by the long holidays to Cypress he had to take to endure the English winters, and it was published in 1939.
We really get to the start of all this though with his move to the New Forest region in 1938, and came into contact with the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship, and the Rosicrucian Theatre near Christchurch.
The Wiccan Roots of NeoPaganism
The story goes that he met a coven of ‘the Old Religion’ there, and was initiated into the tradition of “Wica”, which he claimed (in his book ‘The Meaning of Witchcraft’, published 1959) came from the Anglo Saxon words ‘wig’ (an idol), and ‘laer’ (learning); giving us ‘wiglaer’ – which was shortened into ‘Wicca’, or in Saxon ‘Wica’. Doreen Valiente later claimed it came from the Indo-European root ‘Weik’, which relates to things connected with magic and religion.
There’s a couple of theories now as to who might have initiated Gardner into this Old Religion.
Originally, it was told as Old Dorothy Clutturbuck, who Valiente later proved had actually existed at least, whether she was a witch or not remains unclear. Or it might have been a woman known as Dafo, whose real name was Edith Woodford-Grimes. The latest research though, by the excellent scholar Philip Heselton, makes a strong case for a woman called Rosamund Sabine, known as ‘Mother Sabine’.
You can see, perhaps, why there’s some suspicion regarding the veracity of Gardner’s claim? He went on to publish more books:
1949: High Magic’s Aid (fiction, but perhaps only published as such because witchcraft was technically illegal in England until the law was repealed in 1951)
1954: Witchcraft Today
1959: The Meaning of Witchcraft
Other notable names around at the inception of Wicca were Eleanor Bone (1911-2001), and Sybil Leek (1923-1983), who each have their own origin stories and subsequent books published, which are worth a look at.
With a priestess, Doreen Valiente – and heavily influenced by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (started in 1888), and in particular the work of the occultist and magician Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) – Gardner started his specific practice of witchcraft, which became (Gardnerian) traditional Wicca.
Besides Doreen Valiente, those involved in Gardnerian Wicca at the start there were Jack Bracelin, Pat and Arnold Crowther, Lois Bourne (Hemmings), Monique Wilson and Campbell “Scotty” Wilson.
Traditional Wicca as we Know it
Gardner was followed by Alex Sanders (1926-1988), who founded the Alexandrian tradition of Wicca in the 1960s. Alex claimed to have been initiated by his Grandmother as a child, and indeed he did have a family background in the esoteric, but we do know that he was probably initiated into Gardnerian Wicca in 1963 through the Crowthers’ line, but not by them personally, and he sort of ran with things in his own way from there.
From his line came the author Stewart Farrar (1916-200, initiated in 1970 at the age of 54), and his wife Janet (1950- ), who have perhaps had the most influence through all of this in the development and promotion of the practice of traditional Wicca to the wider world, through their many books as well as a stable media presence.
Indeed Janet and her husband Gavin Bone continue to write and teach on Pagan topics worldwide, at the point of writing, from their base in Kells, County Meath, Ireland.
English occultist Roy Bowers, known most commonly as Robert Cochrane (1931-1966), is another who claimed to have been born to a hereditary family of witches, with practices stretching back to at least the 1600s CE and a grandfather who was the last Grand Master of the Staffordshire witches… all of this has been dismissed by his own family, and his wife Jane.
He started a coven, the Clan of Tubal Cain, in the early 1960s with a newspaper advert. Him and the Gardnerian lads and lasses were not friends, and there was a lot of to and fro between them through the years, but sure we don’t need to go into all that here.
And that’s basically where it all began.
Of course there have been many others involved, for good or ill, and apologies to anyone who I’ve left out in this brief recap.
My own initiation, for what it’s worth, was in 1996 (aged 18) by Barbara Lee and her ex-husband Peter Doyle, both of whom trained and worked with Janet and Stewart Farrar directly, and I went on to gain my Third Degree before leaving that tradition, in my early 20s, and eventually finding my way to formalising my own native Irish NeoPaganism.
Pagan Holidays (Holy Days) worldwide are coming back to a more general use and understanding, with folk often asking questions about whether Christmas is a Pagan Holiday (it is, sort of), and observing the 8-fold Wheel of the Year.
The current Neo Pagan calendar (and its primarily Wiccan holidays) is ostensibly based off the ‘Celtic Wheel of the Year’, as the early creators and authors of our modern traditions were very fond of their romantic notions of Celtic culture, and very sure that it was ok to just… take what they wanted, and change or use it however they wanted.
The problem with this (one of the problems) is that we now have a sort of tangled, much mangled, view of the original pre-christian Irish Pagan festivals, that even many Irish Pagans adhere to.
In this post, I’d like to break this down a bit, and clarify some of the basics, so that we can (hopefully), start fresh. With a somewhat cleaner slate for Irish Pagan practice. Le do thoil.
The Wheel of the Year
To begin with, the ‘traditional’ eight Pagan Holidays, are actually 2 sets of four. So the wheel of the year is maybe 2 wheels, rotating side by side.
This can be a little confusing if you’re not used to considering things this way, but I do remember being quite frustrated back in my baby Pagan days by how the festivals seemed to just be copies of each other. Like, within the Wiccan traditions, there’s not a huge difference between how you’re celebrating the Summer Solstice (Litha) and Beltane, for example.
In my native practice, I break the focus, themes or concerns out as follows:
The Fire Festivals – with Community elements, but a focus on Hearth & Home, and the Otherworld.
The Cross Quarters – with Community elements, but a focus on the Land & Sovereignty, and this World.
The Pagan Calendar names I use are in modern Irish, and the associated Gaeilge video is also my schoolgirl modern Irish pronunciation, to be clear.
Irish is a living language, and while I’m the first one to honour the Primitive Irish and Old Irish source material, they are different languages. We have modern Irish terminology for every single Pagan Holiday name, and a wealth of associated folklore and traditions within our living memory in Irish communities. So let’s use that.
Admittedly now, some of the folklore has gotten crossed over and shifted around with the Christian influences, eg. Summer Solstice bonfires now happen on St. John’s Eve, on the 23rd June, and the animal sacrifice tradition has moved from Samhain to St. Martin’s Day, on the 11th November. But that’s ok too.
At least the traditions still exist, and have grown and moved with the communities as we did.
Irish Pagan Holidays – the Fire Festivals
Focus on Community, Hearth & Home, the Otherworld (an Saol Eile).
When people first walked this land, there were 2 seasons: summer and winter. They signified the change and move between camping grounds, as theirs was a Hunter/Gatherer lifestyle.
These times of moving and changing were dangerous and uncertain, and this still holds true in the primary Irish Pagan holidays of Bealtaine, and Samhain, which remain times of great change and uncertainty.
When the people settled, and began to farm the land, the seasons of Growth and Harvest were marked, with Imbolg and Lúnasa, and so began the 4 Fire Festivals.
[Download this Chart as a PDF Below]
Personally, I use the name Imbolg for this festival. That’s from the Irish i mBolg, meaning ‘in the belly’, for the pregnancy aspects (animals as well as humans, because if we get pregnant at Bealtaine we give birth around now). Imbolc is commonly used too though, and may have associations with washing or a ‘spring clean’ after winter, from Folc, meaning ‘bathe or wash’. I’m honestly not sure which language the term Oimelc comes from, though it’s been given to mean ‘ewe’s milk’. That would be Bainne na Caoirigh in modern Irish though, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
We have this clearly in old Irish as Belltaine (with various other spellings, the manuscripts weren’t always precise or standardised), meaning the month of May, or even ‘the month of the beacon-fire) according to the eDIL. It may have associations with an Old Celtic God Boleros, ‘the flashing one’ (Ó hÓgáin) or Balar/Balor in Ireland, he of the single, blazing destructive eye (often thought to be symbolic of the sun), and form the word Bealtaine from Balor’s Fire (tine).
There are multiple spellings out there, and I know some of them are based on the Gaelic language of Scotland, which I don’t speak. But as we still use the word Bealtaine in modern Irish for the month of May, and again – this is a living language, and it’d be great not to have to deal with bastardised or anglicised versions of it anymore please and thank you – let’s go with that eh?!
You’ll often see this written as Lughnasadh, and indeed, I’ve done so myself. As above though, I prefer the modern Irish spelling, and in Gaeilge, Lúnasa is the word for the month of August. I mean, I wasn’t joking about these Pagan holidays still being a part of our culture.
It’s most likely connected to the Old God Lugh, (lug in old Irish can be ‘magnificent, heroic, warlike’: eDIL), and Lugnasad is ‘the festival of Lugh, the first of August’: eDil.
You’ll see references too, to Lammas, which we don’t have in modern Irish. My basic exploration of Old Irish suggests it MIGHT be a version of a ‘fine, handsome or excellent hand’ (from n. Lám and adj. Mass?)… but be warned, that is a very rudimentary look at a compound word! I definitely don’t use it as a Pagan Holiday name anyway.
It’s not pronounced Sam-Hane. Never. I don’t care what your esteemed Elders passed down to you not-so-very-long-ago (in the grand scheme of things).
This is a LIVING LANGUAGE. Respect it, and the people who still speak it every day. Stop that Sam-Hane shit immediately.
It probably comes from the Old Irish samfuin, meaning ‘death of Summer’: eDIL. Samhain in modern Irish is the word for the month of November.
So yes, we know how to pronounce it properly. (Are you getting a sense for how many times I’ve had U.S. Pagans correct my pronunciation? Like, I’m not sure how to even communicate how infuriating that is, especially when it happens consistently!)
Focus on Community, Land & Sovereignty, this World (an Saol Sin – or Seo).
We know these times were important to our ancestors due, at least, to the sacred sites they constructed and used to observe and celebrate them. Massive monuments all over the island still attest to the power and value that was placed upon aligning ourselves, our communities, and our leadership, with these turning times of the Pagan year.
Please note: the common names Ostara, Litha, Mabon, and Yule, are at best culturally appropriated and co-opted into Neo Paganism, and at worst, carry entirely fabricated pseudo histories. I’m looking at you, Mabon.
They have NO place in native Irish paganism.
The Irish names below are simply the names of our seasons, as Gaeilge, and have always suited my personal practice around the Irish Pagan Holidays best.
If you’d like more detail on any of the Irish Pagan Holidays, comment below and let me know. There’s already extensive sections in my books (see Publications – coming soon), but I can try and get some more blog posts and YouTube videos together for them if there’s an interest, and maybe even a wee course through our Irish Pagan School.
Let me know which of the Pagan holidays you want to see more on?!
Some of the most common questions on Irish Pagan Beliefs I see, revolve around the Pagan Altar. What is it? How do you make one? What direction should a Pagan Altar face?!
I figure it might be useful to show you what I do, as a starting point. (Spoiler alert, there’s no pentagrams! The post image was a RUSE!) So, here’s mine, currently, and my answers to a few of those questions besides.
What’s on my Pagan Altar?
Back, left to right:
Mini bottle of Mead, a sacred drink to the Irish. This one is for the symbolism, rather than the offering, and it has sentimental value too as it was a gift from my partner.
Dropper bottle of Men’s Sacred Water, a gift from Justin Moffat (who is an excellent Guide at Uisneach, an important Irish Sacred Site).
2 red pillar candles; the colour is symbolic of both my Goddess, the Mórrígan, and the Irish Otherworld in which we walk and work.
Crow painting, painted and gifted to me by my first ‘Witch Daughter’ initiate, Caroline 💞
Square candle holder, usually containing a daily devotional white candle flame; Red and White are the 2 colours of the Irish Otherworld, so they fit here. The holder was a gift from my Mammy, and reads “Take a deep breath, relax, you’re home now”. She gave it to me when I moved down to join my family in County Waterford, after many years in County Roscommon.
Crow skull, a treasured gift from my friend Brianna 💜
2 glass vials with cork stoppers, containing clay mud from the Síd ar Cruachán (the Cave of the Cats), and water from the Ogulla Well, both sites of the Rathcroghan Complex, in County Roscommon – home of the Mórrígan and Queen Maedbh.
Front, left to right:
Adge’s Wand – a long ago gift of a bog oak and quartz snake carved wand, the personal tool of our own Fluid Druid, Adge, before he left us.
Beater for the Bodhrán (native Irish drum) you can just see in the bottom left corner. I often use these as part of my daily devotions.
Scented candle with bright copper lid, because I really, really like nice smells and shiny things!
Carved wooden bowl and spoon, with blended herbal incense packages – all gifts from the Caludron of the Celts, and Land Sea Sky travel.
Not pictured, see the video for… Offerings glass, painted and gifted by my Witch Sister, Rhiannon, who died a long time ago and is still missed every day, and remembered every time I see it. 💔 Also, Blackthorn branches and Crow feathers collected during my Monthly Site Visits, which are in containers up above, on either side of my Pagan Altar.
How to make your Pagan Altar
As you can see, this isn’t too difficult.
I found the chest in a second hand shop for about 20 quid, and the drawers make handy storage for candles, lighters, and other assorted shite.
Fire is vital when practicising Irish Pagansim, in my opinion, as the hearth and home fires are SO much a part of our culture (and for many other reasons which are beyond the scope of this post… ask me in the comments if you’ve any questions!). So, be sure to have some sort of live flame on there whenever possible.
Connection to place is very important too, so have something that represents the place/s that are important in your practice.
Representation of deity is good – seriously though, don’t get caught up on finding the ‘perfect’ statue or painting. It probably doesn’t exist, to be honest. The gods are essentially formless, and anything after that is us trying to visualise them so that we can build relationship. Stick to the basics as you begin, and see what develops over time.
Ritual tools are optional, depending on your tradition and practice. I have 2 really large carved walking staffs, one bog oak and one yew, that obviously don’t fit on my Pagan altar. I have an athame with a carved Blackthorn handle, that was very special to me when I was an 18 year old in a Traditional Wiccan Coven, but doesn’t have a place in my current native Irish practice.
The most important thing for any Pagan altar is to find and use items that are special to you, that make sense to you.
What direction should a Pagan Altar face?
I don’t even know what direction my altar is facing.
That compass is purely symbolic… I’m probably dyspraxic, and spend a lot of my magical life (and far too much of my mundane life) wandering in and out of the Otherworld. I very rarely know what direction I’m facing in this world!
Unless it’s a specific part of your tradition (in Alexandrian Trad Wicca as I was initially trained, for example, it goes in the North), it doesn’t matter what direction your Pagan Altar is facing.
Just put it wherever works for you, in your home, so you can see and connect with it every single day. I promise, that’s more important than getting it ‘right’ by anyone else’s standards or rules.
How to use a Pagan Altar
As I said, connect with it every day, in some way.
Some days, that will be giving it a bit of a dust or a tidy, and maybe lighting a tealight/votive candle.
Other days, you might be sitting in front of it for an hour or more, using divination or Journeying, perhaps for communicating with a God or Goddess.
And sometimes you may do rituals – like celebrating the seasonal cycles, rites of passage, or devotion to Deity – and decorate it with extra special or symbolic items for the duration.
These are all good uses of a Pagan Altar, and if you’re working alone, or just starting to figure out your Irish Pagan practice, experiement with what seems right for you.
Take notes, keep a record; watch for patterns over time and improve as you go.
Seriously though. Do something every day.
Irish Pagan Practice (or any Pagan practice, to be honest, but especially the Irish stuff) is about building relationship. To do this, you need to show up consistently, and do the Work.
It doesn’t always have to be big work, or important work, or hard work. But it’s all part of the Work.
Learn about Irish Paganism, Magic and Spirituality from a practicing Draoí, a Native Irish Priestess of Ireland.