Blog - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide

The Mórrígan’s Children

The Mórrígan's Children Meche Snake Serpent

Does the Goddess Mórrígan have any children, and who are they, exactly?

This post started originally with an interesting discussion in our office, at Irish Pagan School / Eel & Otter Press HQ.

My partner, An Scéalaí Beag, believes that Brighid is not only the daughter of his boss, the Dagda, but also of my boss, the Mórrígan.

I disagree.

(There is no evidence for either position, it must be noted.)

Brighid is pretty definitively a daughter of the Dagda, but there’s nothing to say or indicate that her mother is the Mórrígan, besides the relationship between that pair, that I am aware of.

But he has plenty of kids with other people, so… it is purely a matter of speculation and opinion.

I have my reasons for what I believe, and he has his, so we’ve respectfully agreed to disagree.

No really. There was none of this…

Fighting over the Mórrígan's Children - but not
Image shows a side by side of the 2 lads from the American Chopper meme, shouting at each other.

More recently, I decided to finish my draft post on ‘The Mórrígan’s Children’, due to the question from community member Nora, as part of my November Q&A for the Mórrígan series…

“I’ve been watching your series on the Morrigan, and a question has been coming up for me—does the Morrigan herself have any children? I’ve read that Brigid is a daughter of the Dagda, but haven’t found any information on who Brigid’s mother is. And I also read on Samhain about the consummation of the Dagda and the Morrigan. I presume Brigid is not daughter of the Morrigan—at least I don’t get that sense. But still it raised the question for me as to whether or not there is a lineage descended from the Morrigan.”

It seemed to warrant a more involved citation-rich answer than I can really give on YouTube (you can find the rest of the Q&A videos on my Mórrígan Playlist Here though).

Does the Goddess Mórrígan have any Children, according to the lore?

The short answer is, Yes.

But it’s not quite that simple.

First, let’s give a brief mention to the daughter of the Badb (Badbh) – who in turn is referred to as the ‘daughter of Cailitín’ (a dead Druid).

This reference to the Badb having a daughter is a complicated meandering tale presented in a later version of the Oidheadh Con Culainn – ‘The death of Cú Chulainn’, and to my mind the daughter of Badb here seems to be a mortal witch/priest of the Badb, OR possible a Sidhe of the ‘Washer at the Ford’ type.

“Do you see, Little Hound,” asked Cathbad, “Badb’s daughter yonder, washing your spoils and armour? Mournfully, ever-sorrowfully she executes and tells of your fall, when she signifies your defeat before Medb’s great host and the sorcery of the children of Cailitín.”

[Van Hamel, 1933]

This is not to be mixed up with the Badb in her role AS ‘The Washer at the Ford’ – as seen here.

The whole confusion between the roles/function of the Mórrígan and the Sisters, and the actual people – or Sidhe entities – who embody those roles in Irish tradition and folklore, is definitely a story for another day.

We’ll also put aside, for now, the stories of Macha – who most definitely has children (twins, at least)… but is not the Mórrígan.

Méche, Son of the Mórrígan?

This is the most commonly known example of the Mórrígan having children, so we’ll start here.

Berba (Poem 13)
The Barrow, enduring its silence,
that flows through the folk of old Ailbe;
a labour it is to learn the cause whence is called
Barrow, flower of all famous names.
No motion in it made
the ashes of Mechi the strongly smitten:
the stream made sodden and silent past recovery
the fell filth of the old serpent.
Three turns the serpent made;
it sought out the soldier to consume him;
it would have wasted by its nature all the kine
of the indolent hosts of ancient Erin.
Therefore Diancecht slew it:
there was rude reason for clean destroying it,
for preventing it for ever from wasting
above every resort, from consuming utterly.
Known to me is its grave where he cast it,
a tomb without walls or roof-tree;
its evil ashes,–no ornament to the region
found silent burial in noble Barrow.
(The Metrical Dindshenchas)

No mention of the Mórrígan there, or of Meche (Mechi) being one of her children.

She is specifically mentioned in the Bodleian Dindshenchas version though:

“Berba — into it the three snakes which were in the heart of Méche, son of the Mórrígan, were cast, after he was killed by Mac Cecht in Mag Méchi.”

[ Stokes, 1892]

The origin story of the River Barrow (Berba) mentions Méche also in the Rennes Dindshenchas, and in Acallam na Senórach – ‘The Dialogue of the Ancients’.

Nowhere (that has survived) does it tell a story of Méche’s conception, or birth, or father, or any other relationship or interaction with the Mórrígan.

Daughter of Delbaeth

Ah, the oul incest addition. Sure it wouldn’t be a proper ancient tale without it, now would it?

In Lebor Gabála Érenn, we see the Mórrígan as a Daughter of Ernmas (her Mother, by the way, not Father as most folk first presume).

Her father is Delbaeth, who is also the father of some sons; including 3 boys named Brian, Iucharba, Iuchair.

This manuscript has many different versions though, called Redactions or Recensions, with different versions of who – exactly – the Daughters of Ernmas are.

And it’s not until Redaction 3 (Recension C) that we see those 3 boys as the Mórrígan’s children, by her own father.

“The Mórrígan, daughter of Delbaeth, was the mother of the other sons of Delbaeth, that is, Brian, Iucharba, and Iuchair…”.

Macalister, R. A. S., Lebor gabála Érenn: The book of the taking of Ireland, 5 vols, Irish Texts Society 34, 35, 39, 41, 44, Dublin: Irish Texts Society, 1932–1942.

Also in Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Mórrígan’s name is given as Anand – though she is also named as one of the Sisters – and Anand is given as the mother to 3 other sons: Glon, Gaim, and Coscar.

The Mórrígan’s Children in the Tuatha Dé Danann

We’ve mentioned the text Acallam na Senórach, and in it we see a lad who’s hosting Fionn in an Otherworldly mound talk about how his household defends themselves each year, from those of the Tuatha Dé Danann who come to dig up their Sidhe (referring to the mound itself, in this case).

Included in the host who came against them were:

“The children of the Mórrígan daughter of Ernmas, with her twenty-six female warriors and her twenty-six male warriors.”

[Stokes, 1900]

The Irish text says ‘Clann na Morrigna’ though, and while this is most often translated as ‘The Morrigan’s Children’, it technically means her family, but this phrasing was also used to indicate a warband.

The Mysterious Adair

(Huge thanks, as ever, to Morgan Daimler for helping me track down the source of this – go support their excellent work on Patreon!)

You’ll see multiple places online mentioning a daughter of the Dagda and the Mórrígan – Adair – as if they know what they’re on about… but I couldn’t for the life of me track down the source for this.

Until I went to the one person I’d seen mention it who definitely knows what they’re on about – Daimler.

They helpfully pointed me to the “index to persons” of the Cath Maige Tuired and provided a picture (thumb is Morgan’s own):

Gray, E. (1983) Cath Maige Tuired. Published by the Irish texts Society.

The reference reads: “The Morrigans daughter Adair (by the Dagda) is said to have been the wife of Eber in the glosses to the forty questions of Eochaid Úa Cérín, edited and translated by Thurneysen, ZCP 13 (1919), 133.”

Now, if anyone has access to a translated copy of the forty questions of Eochaid Úa Cérín, including the glosses… please comment below?!

Are all of those really the Mórrígan’s Children?

So, imagine me, and every other Mórrígan scholar I know, sort of shrugging at this point – if you want a definitive answer.

Yes, the lore says she has multiple children.

Are they children or descendants in the usual sense? No, not really.

Is it possible that she is metaphorically, or symbolically, their ‘mother’? Yes, that’s likely.

‘The Mórrígan’ in the lore is often used as a title, role, or attribute to indicate anything bad, demonic (to the minds of the writers), or scary.

None of these references may actually refer to direct line descendants of the Mórrígan at all, but rather to people or entities who are aligned with what the Mórrígan represented – either in the society at the time of the stories, or in the minds of the authors who later wrote them down.

Hopefully that clears things up… somewhat, at least?!

(If you have any questions, please join the mailing list below for your best chance of a direct response on the blog or on my YouTube… my Q&A list is HUGE now. Comments below are also welcome!)

The Mórrígan – A Month of Questions and Answers

The Mórrígan and Sushi

Funny story about the Mórrígan.

On Sunday 13th October, I was in Dublin presenting at Octocon – ​The National Irish Science Fiction Convention. 

(Details for 2020 are here, by the way – https://2019.octocon.com/2019/10/14/octocon-returns-in-2020/​)

It was a lovely day, filled with lovely people… and a small* amount of wine was consumed. By me. 

AFTER the event (and some more wine), we decided to go for dinner with some lovely friends. We decided on Sushi, because, my friends, I am all about the sushi. Just give me all of the sushi, all of the time. 

The Mórrígan and Eels

As we walked to dinner, the hunger came upon me, for a type of Sushi that has been made clear to me, by Herself (the Mórrígan), that I am not to have. Or at least, I am not to take lightly. But I love it the very best, of all the sushi. 

That is, Unagi.​

Yes, you guessed it. I am spiritually restricted from eating an Eel.

It’s not a ban, exactly. It’s not a ‘never ever’ geis, a taboo, a prohibition. But it is to be taken seriously. 

There’s been a few times where I’ve really wanted it, and the contractual price in return just… wasn’t worth it. 

Well. 

Wine-imbibing Lora decided that eel was on the menu, that night, and consequences be damned. 

No, I didn’t just go ahead and eat it and expect to pay the price – I was tipsy not brain damaged. I did what any reasonable person would do… I went into the restaurant bathroom and had a conversation with a Goddess. 

The upshot of all this was… 

I got my lovely unagi nagiri. 

The Mórrígan’s Price

I agreed to produce a YouTube Video or a blog post EVERY DAY in November, especially answering any Questions about working with Herself or the Sisters that our community would like to throw my way. 

So, if you have any Mórrígan questions, comment below and ask. 

I know some of you are laughing at me right now. I probably deserve that 🤷‍♀️

You can follow along on the Mórrigan Playlist at YouTube… Subscribe to my Channel here – https://www.youtube.com/user/loraobr​ – and hit the bell for notifications so you don’t miss any content updates.

Add this blog to your RSS feed service so you don’t miss any content here either!

And of course I’ll be emailing ye through the mailing list as we go. (Make sure you’re a member, sign up is below!)

Slán go fóill

Lora 💚

*I say a small amount… I’m very tall. Proportionally, the wine volume was small compared to my tall. My blood alcohol levels on the day may not have agreed with this analysis logic, but whatever.

Medb’s Heap – Miosgán Medb

Medb's Heap - Miosgan Medb at Rathcroghan

This post is about the monument known as Medb’s Heap, Medb’s Cairn, Medb’s Tomb, Medb’s Nipple or Medb’s Grave (and sometimes the name Medb is anglicized as Maeve).

In Irish it’s called Miosgán Medb, from the old Irish word mescán – mass, lump, heap.

Now, you’ll likely have heard tell of the one in County Sligo, the famous “Maeve’s Grave” that sits on top of the 327 metre (1,073 ft) hill called Knocknarea, just to the West of Sligo town.

That may be what you’re looking for… but did you know there are 4 other sites that bear the name “Medb’s Heap’ too?

Stay with me now here, for a few minutes, and let me show you some of what I’ve found while researching my new book: ‘The Irish Queen Medb: History, Tradition, and Modern Pagan Practice’.

Find Out More in the Queen Medb ‘Cheat Sheet’ Here!

So, I was sorting through the Cruachán (Rathcroghan) sites associated with Medb specifically (because that’s where she lived and ruled from, never mind that oul Sligo connection, for now).

There are two large stones named for her that lie directly between the Rathcroghan Main Mound, and Ráth Beag, a high status burial mound directly across from it. They are called Miosgán Medb (again, Medb’s Heap) and Millín Medb (Medb’s Knoll, related to the modern Irish meall – knoll, mound, or a lump of butter).

As expected, so far.

However, when I looked the name up on Logainm.ie (the Irish placenames database), I got a surprise.

Medb’s Heap in… Donegal?!

The entry for Medb's Heap on Logainm Website
Image shows 3 database entries for Medb’s Heap sites in County Donegal.

These references are for Cairn monuments in the areas of Raymunterdoney, Meentaghconlan, and Clonmany. And if you look these places up on the map, you’ll there’s none of them very far from that upper NorthWest coastline. 

I looked them up on the map already for you. Here…

Medbs-Heap-Sites-in-Donegal-on-Google-Maps

The placement of these sites struck me as VERY interesting because they form a boundary against an area that is traditionally a direction which Otherworldly forces might have come from: The NorthWest Sea, and specifically Tory Island, which has links to the Fomorians.

This ancient enemy is NOT from the same time period as Queen Medb, story wise. They are from the Mythological Cycle, while her stories are set in the Ulster Cycle.

Was there a different Medb, a local ancestor or Goddess whose name survived there?

Was our Queen Medb being evoked against general Otherworld/ocean concerns, by the people of a community who may have carried some ancestral memory of foes from that direction, and a powerful guardian who could protect against them?

Unfortunately, we may never know for sure… but I will be exploring this (and more!) further as I continue to write this book.

If you’d like to follow along, you can sign up for my Author Club Reward on Patreon, and read what’s been written so far, with a new delivery at the end of each month.

Join My Patreon Here.

Or you can join our Community Mailing List below for a regular delivery of authentic Irish Resources – as well as all the latest news and updates as this book (and many others) are published!

Pagan Priesthood in Irish History

Pagan Priesthood Oak Tree Grove [This is a section that didn’t make the final edit of my new book, ‘A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood’, Llewellyn 2019. So, I thought I’d share it here!]

Pagan Priesthood in Ancient Ireland

‘Ancient Ireland’, even if we limit it to Pre-Christian times, could be anywhere in an 11,000 year period, really. So, I will get a little more specific about the when as we go through this article.

First though, let’s clear up this term ‘Celtic’ that most folk associate with ‘ancient Ireland’.

I mean, you may think you know what that word means, but the way it’s used in modern Paganism is decidedly misleading, so you may also have gotten a bad idea somewhere along the way of what it’s really about. 

It is an academic term, used to describe primarily certain similarities of language and culture between varying Indo-European tribes, over a period of many centuries. If you think it refers to anything that’s connected with the people and the culture of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany, maybe even the Basque region of Spain… you’re not entirely wrong. But it’s just such a loose term, that it essentially means nothing in that context. 

Historically, these were geographically diverse and non-homogenous tribes, with limited but identifiable simple commonalities.

Essentially, scholars have looked back on various groups of people, spread over quite vast areas, whose groups were all pretty darn uniquely identifiable from each other… and linked them together – loosely, as I said – with a label. Mostly this was to differentiate them from the ‘Classical’ people of Greece and Rome in Europe; everything else even sorta similar became ‘Celtic’.

The Bronze Age (beginning around 2000 BCE) was still in full flow in Ireland when the Iron Age was forming across ‘Celtic’ Europe. We had a brief Copper Age, and then it’s generally agreed that the Iron Age started about 500 BCE and continued on until the coming of Christianity to the island, which was 400 – 500 ish CE. So there was about a thousand years of this cultural and technological shift.

I’ll not get too much into the odd lack of archaeological evidence we have for this period, nor the distinctions between Hallstatt or La Téne cultures and how they differed in Ireland than the rest of Europe (though I will put some references in the comments below if you tell me you’re interested, because this is totally my nerd bag and I’d love to share that with you!).

By around 50 CE, with the Romans all over the place and Germanic people spreading out too through Europe, insular Celtic languages were pretty bedded down around the outskirts in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany in France.

By the 700s CE, these linguistic identifiers had formed a sort of cohesive cultural identity, with similar enough religion and art at least, to differentiate them from the people surrounding them. Things settled in these areas though and became quite distinctive from each other as we progressed through the Middle Ages, especially in Ireland as an island out on our own.

There’s even talk know about how our language has about as much in common with our Scandinavian neighbours as it does with our Celtic neighbours, showing a diversification and organic development that is unique to this land.

It was the romantic notions of the Celtic Revival in the 1900s CE that gave us this idea of a ‘Celtic Identity’, which has heavily influenced the modern Pagan movement, unfortunately. So, we’re going to think in terms of archaeological and historic periods, rather than Celtic notions, and damn anyone who’s not happy with me for that.

I mean, how about we deal with Ireland as her own thing for once, rather than as part of some fantasy made popular by bored imperialist colonisers over burdened with guilt about the atrocities their ancestors had carried out?

Chronologically speaking, for anyone who’s familiar with any of the Irish mythology, we can loosely connect the Stone Age and the Bronze Age with the Mythological Cycle of the lore – we’re talking Tuatha Dé Danann (pronounced ThOO-a-hah DAY-Dan-an), the Firbolg and the Fomorians.

Then the Iron Age is linked to the Ulster Cycle – Queen Medb (pronounced MAY-v), Cú Chulainn and the Red Branch Knights. 

Between these two ages, there was a distinct shift, and although the Irish priesthood commonly known as Druids (though we’ll examine that in more detail shortly) appears through both eras, it’s with the social changes and the rise of warrior culture with a more hierarchical society that we can see them really rising to their peak power.  

Scholars refer to an ‘Irish Dark Age’ of around 400 years in the middle of the Iron Age, between 100 BCE and 300 CE. This is evidenced by the aforementioned odd lack of archaeology, as well as pollen data pulled out of the bogs (naturally acidic Irish wetlands, in which the anaerobic environment and presence of tannic acids results in fantastic preservation of organic material, for thousands of years) which shows that human activity during this period was less than any other time, before or after.

A lot of what we know about Irish society during this period is gleaned from the stories in the Ulster cycle; although this is often said to be inaccurate as the stories were only written down many centuries later, by Medieval Christian monks, whose culture and biases inevitably coloured their recording. 

That being said though, when we look at those stories critically, there are definitely elements there which match up with more contemporary descriptions and archaeological evidence of tribal cultures in mainland Europe at the time.

When we add what archaeological evidence we do have into the mix, we can at least begin to form a basic picture of how the ancient Irish lived in these periods, and what role their priesthood played within the society.  

Pagan Priesthood in Irish Society

I’ve mentioned that society shifted into a warrior culture, and this makes sense when we think of the pressures that must have abounded in a ‘dark age’ of possible plague, famine, or other vast social and economic hardship (nobody really knows for sure what caused the stagnation during the Iron Age).

There were multiple small tuatha (‘tribes’), ruled by individual kings. The idea of a single ‘High King’ of Ireland, ruling from Tara or anywhere else, is most likely a much later romanticised medieval notion. 

Scholars believe this may be where earlier spiritual practices became more institutionalised with a Pagan priesthood caste. They were moving towards standardised training and systematic dogma… which all can sound like nasty words to us freedom loving modern Pagan types, but really are mere descriptors without a positive or negative attachment, in essence.

It’s the wrongs that people have done with institutionalised systematic dogma that have caused so many problems for folk worldwide. Ancient tribal societies selected special individuals to mediate between them and the spiritual or Otherworld supernatural forces all around them, and modern scholars study this under the heading of ‘shamanism’. With the Celtic tribes, the older practices developed into Druidism. 

Druid Priesthood in Ireland

‘Druid’ seems to have been used as a general catch all term for describing general Celtic, and also Irish specific, priesthood among contemporary commentators. Julius Caesar, for example, said the Druids were concerned with divine worship, performance of sacrifice, and interpretation of ritual matters. 

The word Druid most likely comes from the Celtic root words dru (‘strong, great’), and wid (‘knowledge’). Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian Strabo, writing in his Geographica – first edition published in the year 7 BCE – talked about the bardoi (singers and poets), the ováteis (interpreters of sacrifice and natural philosophers), and the druídae (scholars of the science of nature and moral philosophy). He said these were the classes of men held in special honour. 

In Ireland there were similar classifications with the Pagan Priesthood, which carried through the centuries. 

The Bard was a minor poet, a reciter of tales and poetry who was held in lesser status than the others. The Fáidh was a prophet, one who had the insight and wisdom of the Otherworld and the future. The File was a poet – and the word still means that in modern Irish – but not in the way that we understand the term now. The original meaning for the word file is literally ‘seer’, and they were known to have mystical knowledge, particular rituals, and magical powers. The Druí was a magician, cognate to the ‘great wisdom possessor’ of the Continental Celts, a judge and advisor to the people, having practical technical knowledge as well as a direct line to those Otherworldly powers and beings, just like their shamanic ancestors.

In later centuries, the Fáidh, File, or Druid is often classed or discussed as a Fisidh (‘one who has the fiss’, which is a magical knowledge, an arcane wisdom, and is where the word Imbas also comes from – im-fhiss means ‘full/complete fiss’.) They are the keepers of history, the seers, prophets, and clairvoyant guides.

Pagan Priesthood Temples in Ireland

There don’t seem to have been any religious temples, in the classical sense, in Ireland. There were many large monuments and sacred sites, but these were mostly open air locations. Any that were enclosed, such as the great Passage Tomb at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange, County Meath), were quite cramped – physical space wise, you wouldn’t be fitting a lot of live bodies into that passage and the chambers. It makes sense that any large scale community rituals, feast days, etc would have been conducted in the open air, with maybe an ‘inner circle’ element happening in an interior space within the broader context.

There is evidence towards this in the frequent descriptions of large scale gatherings and aontaí (‘fairs, assemblies’) on festival days, at important sites such as Cruachán (Rathcroghan, County Roscommon). Indeed, there are aontaí that continue to this day that may have their distant roots in ancient spiritual gatherings – see for example Puck Fair in County Kerry, though most folk will tell you it’s a pure modern event.

But here, they crowned a billy goat as the King and put him above on a pole presiding over the fair, and this was going on for years. So, I’ll let ye be the judge now on whether that one just might have the hint of a pagan root going back. 

There’s also some evidence, both on the Continent and in Ireland, that Druids practiced and worshiped in forest groves. There’s references to places called neimheadh, or neimed in older versions of Irish, which means ‘holy, sacred, consecrated place’, has distinct connotations of privilege and power, and is often associated with sacred tree groves, which are open to the sky (the root word is the old Irish nem, ‘sky’).

There is sometimes the prefix fiodh, which means tree (or even a boundary tree in older Irish language versions) and the sacred places are described as fiodhneimhidh (plural), which are described as locations in which seers used to perform their rituals. 

So what were the druids doing, besides running around in forest groves? Or sometimes, while running around in forest groves?! The following are some druidic practices that are well attested in the lore, and we can see a mix of both pastoral and sacerdotal functions (I define these explicitly in my Pagan Priesthood book):

  • Prophecy and divination
  • Working magically on, near, or with water
  • Performing ritual sacrifices, most likely, but probably only on bad guys, or volunteers
  • Giving wise counsel and judgements, to all levels of society
  • Performing rituals to gain knowledge and enlightenment
  • Active dreaming, which may be related to Otherworld Journeying practices
  • Poetical composition without thinking, the mark of the fíorfhile (‘true poet’)
  • Singing – everything from eulogies to satire
  • Peace-making and healing magic
  • War-making, cursing and battle magic
  • Bring good or bad fortune through poetry – moladh agus aoir (‘praise and satire’)
  • Herbalism, medicinal and surgical healing
  • Psychiatry and psychological manipulation
  • Organising/contributing to major community gatherings
  • Being really super knowledgeable on history, and… everything else really.

There is a fascinating history of Pagan Priesthood through Irish history, which – I’m delighted to inform you – is still going well to this day!

Learn More – Buy ‘A Practical Guide to Pagan Priesthood’.

Brehon Law Resources

The Brehon Law system, shining a light on Early Irish law

Learn about Ancient Ireland’s Laws and Customs through study of the Brehon Law system.

A student in our Mórrígan Intensive Programme asked me for resources on the Brehon Law system the other day, and I had to be honest – I didn’t have them to hand.

It’s not an area I’ve really dug into yet, though I know there’s a lot to study.

But look, as a teacher, one of the most ethical things that I hold sacred is that if someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to… I tell them that honestly, and then I go and do my best to find quality resources where they (and me, usually) can go learn about the thing.

I found a few of my own, but the internet is full of mischief, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for – or looking at – it’s hard to tell what’s reliable.

Or not.

Luckily, I run a couple of Facebook Groups that are full of the smartest people I know, so I always know where to go for the best recommendations. And with this question, they did not let me down!

[Huge thanks to: Erynn Rowan Laurie, C. Lee Vermeers, Geraldine Byrne, Shane Broderick, Robert L. Barton, Pamela Holcombe… and to Elisabeth Marx for the original question.]

So, here’s our Brehon Law Resources list!

The Wiki Page is actually not bad, for starters, as Shane pointed out in the group post. I have mentioned elsewhere many times before; we don’t take Wikipedia info as definitive source material, but we can use the reference section as a good starting point for any research.

[Shane also has a blog post on this topic here.]

Fergus Kelly featured, as anyone who is even passing familiar with Early Irish Law will be entirely un-shocked by. Erynn kicked us off by recommending ‘A Guide to Early Irish Law’ (book, 2005) as the classic – excellent for reference but it can be a little dense for a read through. This was backed up by Geraldine and others.

‘Whodunnit? Indirect evidence in early Irish Law’ (article, 2015) by Fergus Kelly also got an honourable mention from Pamela, and I’d like to add this link to his article about the legal status of trees: ‘Brehon Laws’ on Forestry Focus.

There’s a book online, written by Laurence Ginnell in 1894, which may be of interest. It’s on my list to work through… if you’ve read it, let me know what you think in the comments? It’s called ‘The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook’.

The Irish History Podcast is excellent (I’ve recommended it elsewhere too), and they did an episode called ‘Brehon Law: From Divorce to Irish Sex Magic’, which interviews Dr. Gillian Kenny – who also helped me out with an article on Gaelic Marriage Customs. The podcast description reads:

“Divorce and sex magic are not things we associate with medieval Ireland. However for over one thousand years Irish society was governed by a unique and radically different legal system called Brehon Law. In this podcast I interview Dr Gillian Kenny who explains what Brehon Law was and how it worked. She challenges widely held misconceptions and explains how divorce existed in medieval Ireland given it was banned in modern Ireland until 1995!. And then of course there is the sex magic.”

Listen to the Irish History Podcast on Spotify

I must say though, I actually do associate Medieval Ireland with divorce and sex magic. Quite regularly.

‘Cattle Lords and Clansmen’ by Nerys Patterson is a great book, which I’ve also recommended elsewhere, but Robert reminded me that it has a chapter on the Brehon Law system that… “takes a long view of the development and cultural context that can help to understand the specific laws as they exist within a system.”

For the more established scholar, we can move to Daniel Binchy’s edits of the ‘Corpus iuris Hibernici’, in seven volumes. You can see the CODECS listing for Volume 1 here. Liam Breatnach’s book – ‘A Companion to the Corpus Iuris Hibernici (Early Irish Law)’ – will help get you through.

Neil McLeod wrote a number of articles on the topic, which you can find indexed on CODECS here. C. Lee has found the 2 part “Interpreting Early Irish Law: Status and Currency” particularly useful.

And finally, Robin Chapman Stacey has two books that are a somewhat easier read, and very useful. They are:

What’s your favourite (or most useful) Brehon Law Resource?

If you have any other recommendations, or would like to add your opinion on the ones above, please feel free to leave a comment below!

Lughnasadh in Ireland

Lughnasadh in Ireland

The 1st of August (sometimes the 2nd) is Lúnasa (Lughnasadh, Lughnasa, Brón Trogain) – the harvest festival in Ireland.

In her excellent book, ‘The Festival of Lughnasa’, Máire MacNeill wrote:

“Garland Sunday and Domhnach Chrom Dubh are two of the many names of a festival celebrated by Irish country people at the end of July or the beginning of August. It marked the end of summer and the beginning of the harvest season, and on that day the first meal of the year’s new food crop was eaten. The chief custom was the resorting of the rural communities to certain heights or water-sides to spend the day in festivity, sports and bilberry-picking.​”

Publisher: Folklore of Ireland Council; Reprint edition (January 1, 2008)

Buy the Book on Amazon.com Here.

Buy the Book from the Irish Publisher Here.

Lughnasadh in Irish Mythology

Lughnasadh is mentioned in the old text, Tochmarc Emire, ‘The Wooing of Emer’ – which Kuno Meyer has dated to the 900s CE – along with a small piece on all the Fire Festivals: 

“Bend Suain, son of Rose Melc, which she said, this is the same thing, viz., that I shall fight without harm to myself from Samuin. i.e., the end of summer. For two divisions were formerly on the year, viz., summer from Beltaine (the first of May), and winter from Samuin to Beltaine. Or samfuin, viz., suain (sounds), for it is then that gentle voices sound, viz., sám-son ‘ gentle sound.’ To Oimolc. i.e., the beginning of spring, viz., different (ime) is its wet (folc), viz., the wet of spring, and the wet of winter. Or, oi-melc, viz., oi, in the language of poetry, is a name for sheep, whence oibá (sheep’s death) is named, ut dicitur coinbá (dog’s death), echbá (horse’s death), duineba (men’s death), as bath is a name for ‘death.’ Oi-melc, then, is the time in which the sheep come out and are milked, whence oisc (a ewe), i.e., oi-sesc, viz., a barren sheep. To Beldine, i.e. Beltine, viz., a favouring fire. For the druids used to make two fires with great incantations, and to drive the cattle between them against the plagues, every year. Or to Beldin, viz., Bel the name of an idol. At that time the young of every neat were placed in the possession of Bel. Beldine, then Beltine. To Brón Trogain, i.e. Lammas-day, viz., the beginning of autumn ; for it is then the earth is afflicted, viz., the earth under fruit. Trogan is a name for ‘ earth.'”​

Kuno Meyer, Archaeological Review Vol. I, 1888

The festival of Lughnasadh began as a commemoration feast and games, started by the Tuatha Dé Danann God Lugh in honour of his foster mother Tailtiu, a Firbolg Queen.

Yes, they were warring tribes. Yes, Tailtiu took in the child of an enemy, and raised him as her own. There’s a lesson there, people, for modern Ireland.

Lughnasadh in Irish Folklore

In a fascinating entry recorded in The Schools Collection, from County Clare, we hear the following:

“Domnach Lunasa, or Lammas Sunday, the first Sunday of the Month of August, was the first – fruits day, and a great day on Buaile na Greine. On Laammas Sunday, called Domnach Crom Dubh, and anglicised Garland Sunday every household was supposed to feast his family and household on the first fruits, and the farmer who failed to provide his people with new potatoes, new bacon, and white cabbage on that day, was called a Felemair Gaoithe, or wind farmer, and if a man dug new potatoes before Crom Dubh’s Day he was considered a needy man, and hence this Sunday was called first – fruits Sunday.

On this day all went to Buaile na Greine with their contribution and their lons (or food supplies) to hold the fair.

The ceremonies consisted of strewing summer flowers on the altar and festive mound, of which we have been speaking up to this, under the name of Altóir na Greine, or Altar of the Sun, but which is on this day used as the altar of Crom Dubh.

The assemblage of this day is called Comthineol Chruim Duibh, or the congregation or gathering of Crom Dubh. And the day is called from him Domnach Chrom Dubh, or Crom Dubh’s Sunday, now called Garland Sunday by the English speaking portion of the people of the surrounding districts.

The name is supposed to have been derived from the practice of strewing garlands of flowers on the festive mound on this day as homage to Crom Dubh: hence the name Garland Sunday.

Assuredly I saw blossoms and flowers deposited upon it on the first Sunday of August 1844, and put some upon it myself as I saw done by those who were with me. I was then a mere lad, but very inquisitive. The assembly was at this time a mere gathering of boys.”

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0612, Page 323

According to MacNeill, the main theme that emerges from the folklore and rituals of Lughnasadh is a struggle for the harvest between two gods. One god – usually called Crom Dubh – guards the grain as his treasure. The other god – Lugh – must seize it for mankind. (Tailtiu may have been an earth goddess who represented the dying vegetation that fed mankind.)

The Tailteann Games, Tailtin Fair, Áenach Tailteann, Aonach Tailteann, Assembly of Talti, Fair of Taltiu or Festival of Taltii were the funeral games which Lugh started in her honour.

There is still a complex of ancient earthworks dating to the Iron Age in the area of Teltown where the festival was historically known to be celebrated off and on from medieval times into the modern era.

My Experience

On a personal note, I’ve always connected very strongly with the Goddess Tailtiu. Indeed, I chose her as my avatar and screen name when I moderated a popular English Witchcraft forum, many years ago. The pronunciation was always fun (Tall-CHEW), and earned me the nickname of Chewy. So, nothing to do with Star Wars, if you remember me from those dim and misty times.

My first introduction to the Irish Pagan Community, back in… 1996, I think, was to represent the Goddess Tailtiu in a ritual re-enactment of a sacred procession, organised by Chris Thompson (of Story Archaeology fame).

This was in protest at the landowner attempting to dig up one/some of the mounds, and was filmed by the Nationwide programme, for our national broadcaster RTE.

So, no pressure then.

If anyone can source a copy of that segment, I’d be most grateful 😉

If you’d like to learn more about the history and practice of Pagan Holidays, or Pagan Festivals in Ireland, you can check out my blog post here.

Learn about the beliefs, Irish mythology, folklore and magic of the turning of the year in Ireland at the Irish Pagan School – Seasons and Sacred Cycles.

The Badb in Bruiden Da Choca

Badb in Da Coca’s Hostel

Bruiden Da Choca, ‘Da Coca’s Hostel’, is known also as Togail Bruidne Da Choca(e) (‘The destruction of Da Coca’s Hostel’), and is one of the many Badb or Mórrígna stories often quoted or referred to, but rarely read or studied.

Let’s change that?

It is available online, though only in a translation by Whitley Stokes, unfortunately, who is not my favourite scholar by any means.

The Summary on CODECS reads:

After the death of Conchobar, the Ulaid debate who to give the kingship to, and decide on Conchobar’s son, Cormac Cond Longas, who is in exile in Connacht. They send envoys, and Ailill and Medb agree to allow Cormac to take up the kingship. He sets out with a retinue, but Craiphtine the harper, whose wife has slept with Cormac, causes Cormac to break his gessa on the journey. Cormac encounters the Badb in the form of an old woman washing a bloody chariot at the ford. A party of Connachta encounter Cormac’s party. They fight several battles, and heroes on both sides are killed. Cormac’s party spend the night at Da Coca’s hostel, which comes under siege by the Connachta, and Cormac is killed, along with nearly everybody on both sides.

https://www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Bruiden_Da_Choca

The bit with the Badb is what we’ll be looking at here today, though the rest is also quite fascinating with regard to the Ulster Cycle as a whole, and Queen Medb of Connacht in particular.

Badb as the Washer at the Ford

This is the excerpt that is pictured above, and appears on Page 157 of the Revue Celtique text that can be found here:

“Thence they went to Druim Airthir, which is now called The Garman, on the brink of Athlone. Then they unyoke their chariots. As they were there they saw a red woman on the edge of the ford, washing her chariot and its cushions and its harness. When she lowered her hand, the bed of the river became red with gore and with blood. But when she raised her hand over the river’s edge, not a drop therein but was lifted on high; so that they went dryfoot over the bed of the river.”

I was curious as to where this place might be located, as I’m a bit of a freak for finding and visiting (and tour guiding at!) locations associated with the Mórrígan in Ireland… so I did a bit of digging. And found this:

Druim Airthir, where coursed the steeds, was its name, before it was called Druim Criaich.

The Metrical Dindshenchas – poem/story 13

This fits with Drumcree (Droim Cria), Gormanstown, Co. Westmeath. There are a number of lakes nearby, but as the text specifically mentions the Ford, I’m going to opt for somewhere along what is now called the River Deel as the likeliest location, with around the place that the road crosses over it as a likely fording point.

View it on a Map here

Anyway, on with the text, which all too commonly and very frustratingly, leaves out the verse and prophecy parts:

“Most horrible is what the woman does! says Cormac. Let one of you go and ask her what she is doing. Then someone goes and asked her what she did. And then, standing on one foot, and with one eye closed, she chanted to them, saying: « I wash the harness of a king who will perish » etc.

The messenger came to Cormac and told him the evil prophecy which the Badb had made for him. Apparently thy coming is a cause of great evil, says Cormac. Then Cormac goes to the edge of the ford to have speech with her, and asked her whose was the harness that she was a-washing. And then he uttered the lay: « O woman, what harness washest thou? » etc.

The Badb. « This is thine own harness, O Cormac, And the harness of thy men of trust, » etc. Evil are the omens that thou hast for us, says Cormac. Grimly thou chattest to us.”


Badb at Da Coca’s Hostel

The Badb at Da Coca’s Hostel

The Badb appears again further on, once they get to the Hostel.

“Dâ Choca entered the house, together with fifty apprentices, and his wife, even Luath, daughter of Lumm Lond. They make Cormac and his army welcome. Then they (all) take their seats in the house.

Now when they were there, they saw coming to them towards the Hostel a bigmouthed, swarthy, swift, sooty woman, and she lame and squinting with her left eye. She wore a mantle threadbare (?) and very dusky. Dark as the back of a stag-beetle was every joint of her from crown to ground. Her filleted grey hair fell back over her shoulder. She leant her shoulder against the doorpost, and began prophesying evil to the host, and uttering ill words, so that she said this:

« Sad will they be in the Hostel: bodies will be severed in bloods,
Trunks will be headless, above the clay of Dâ Choca’s Hostel. »

Then the Badb went from them, and…

This is reminiscent of her appearance in Togail Bruidne Da Derga, ‘The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel’, an earlier tale which has many similar elements. Be careful not to mix them up, though a lot more scholarly work has been done on Da Derga than Da Choca.

In his footnotes, Stokes says:

“Chanting spells, standing on one foot and with one eye shut, is a common incident in Irish magic. So Lugh sings round the Irish army to ensure their success, Rev. Celt., XII, 98. So in the Bruden Dà Derga, LU. 86″32, Cailb chants her baleful prophecy… ‘(standing) on one foot and (using only) one hand and (breathing only) one breath’. Compare also the Dinnsenchas of Loch da Caech, Rev. Celt., XV, 432, where Cicul’s three hundred men come, each using only one foot, one hand and one eye.”

Revue Celtique (1870)

Hopefully now, this has given you a clearer picture around the appearances of the Badb in the tale of Da Coca’s Hostel, and an exciting new physical location associated with the Mórrígan for us to visit.

Watch for that in the Patreon, where we do monthly Site Visits to sacred places in Ireland, and you get to come along!

Join Lora’s Patreon Here.

Enroll in our Intro to the Mórrígan Course Here.


Aislinge Óenguso

Aislinge Óenguso Gantz Early Irish Myths and Sagas Aisling

The Dream of Oengus

Irish Source Lore Manuscripts:

The following is an excerpt from an excellent book, detailed below, which you should absolutely have a copy of in your library!

Jeffrey Gantz. Early Irish Sagas.

Oengus was asleep one night when he saw something like a young girl coming towards the head of his bed, and she was the most beautiful woman in Eriu. He made to take her hand and draw her to his bed, but, as he welcomed her, she vanished suddenly, and he did not know who had taken her from him. He remained in bed until the morning , but he was troubled in his mind: the form he had seen but not spoken to was making him ill. No food entered his mouth that day. He waited until evening, and then he saw a timpán in her hand, the sweetest ever, and she played for him until he fell asleep. Thus he was all night, and the next morning he ate nothing.

A full year passed, and the girl continued to visit Oengus, so that he fell in love with her, but he told no one. Then he fell sick, but no one knew what ailed him. The physicians of Eriu gathered but could not discover what was wrong. So they sent for Fergne, Cond’s physician, and Fergne came. He could tell from a man’s face what the illness was, just as he could tell from the smoke that came from a house how many were sick inside. Fergne took Oengus aside and said to him ‘No meeting this, but love in absence’. ‘You have divined my illness,’ said Oengus. ‘You have grown sick at heart,’ said Fergne.; and you have not dared to tell anyone.’ ‘It is true,’ said Oengus. ‘A young girl came to me; her form was the most beautiful I have ever seen, and her appearance was excellent. A timpán was in her hand, and she played for me each night.’ ‘No matter,’ said Fergne, ‘love for her has seized you. We will send you to Bóand, your mother, that she may come and speak with you.’ 

They sent to Bóand, then, and she came. ‘I was called to see to this man, for a mysterious illnes had overcome him,’ said Fergne, and he told Bóand what had happened. ‘Let his mother tend to him,’ said Fergne, ‘and let her search throughout Eriu until she finds the form that her son saw.’ The search was carried on for a year, but the like of the girl was not found. So Fergne was summoned again. ‘No help has been found for him,’ said Bóand. ‘Then send for the Dagdae, and let him come and speak with his son,’ said Fergne. The Dagdae was sent for and came, asking ‘Why have I been summoned?’ ‘To advise your son,’ said Bóand. ‘It is right that you help him, for his death would be a pity. Love in absence has overcome him, and no help for it has been found.’ ‘Why tell me?’ asked the Dagdae. ‘My knowledge is no greater than yours.’ ‘Indeed it is,’ said Fergne, ‘for you are king of the Síde of Eriu. Send messengers to Bodb, for he is king of the Síde of Mumu, and his knowledge spreads throughout Eriu.’ 

Messengers were sent to Bodb, then, and they were welcomed: Bodb said ‘Welcome, people of the Dagdae.’ ‘It is that we have come for,’ they replied. ‘Have you news?’ Bodb asked. ‘We have: Oengus son of the Dagdae has been in love for two years,’ they replied. ‘How is that?’ Bodb asked. ‘He saw a young girl in his sleep,’ they said, ‘but we do not know where in Eriu she is to be found. The Dagdae asks that you search all Eriu for a girl of her form and appearance.’ ‘That search will be made,’ said Bodb, ‘and it will be carried on for a year, so that I may be sure of finding her.’ At the end of the year, Bodb’s peple went to him at his house in Síd ar Femuin and said ‘We made a circuit of Eriu, and we found the girl at Loch Bél Dracon in Cruitt Cliach.’ Messengers were sent to the Dagdae, then; he welcomed them and said ‘Have you news?’ ‘Good news: the girl of the form you described has been found,’ they said. ‘Bodb has asked that oengus return with us to see if he recognises her as the girl he saw.’ 

Oengus was taken in a chariot to Síd ar Femuin, then, and he was welcomed there: a great feast was prepared for him, and ti lasted three days and three nights. After that, Bodb said to Onegus ‘Let us go, now, to see if you recognise the girl. You may see her, but it is not in my power to give her to you.’ They went on until they reached a lake; there, they saw three fifties of young girls, and Oengus’s girl was among them. The other girls were no taller than her shoulder; each pair of them was linked by a silver chain, but Oengus’s girl wore a silver necklace, and her chain was of burnished gold. ‘Do you recognise that girl?’ asked Bodb. ‘Indeed, I do,’ Oengus replied. ‘I can do no more for you, then’ said Bodb. ‘No matter, for she is the girl I saw. I cannot take her now. Who is she?’ Oengus said. ‘I know her, of course: Cáer Ibormeith daughter of Ethal Anbúail from Síd Uamuin in the province of Connachta.’ 

After that, Oengus and his people returned to their own lan, and Bodb went with them to visit the Dagdae and Bóand at Bruig ind Maicc Oic. They told their news: how the girl’s form and appearance were just as Oengus had seen: and they told her name and those of her father and grandfather. ‘A pity that we cannot get her,’ said the Dagdae. ‘What you should do is go to Ailill and Medb, for the girl is in their territory,’ said Bodb. 

The Dagdae went to Connachta, then, and three score charios with him; they were welcomed by the king and queen there and spent a week feasting and drinking. ‘Why your journey?’ asked the king. ‘There is a girl in your territory,’ said the Dagdae, ‘with whom my son has fallen in love, and he has now fallen ill. I have come to see if you will give her to him.’ ‘Who is she ?’ Ailill asked. ‘The daughter of Ethal Anbúail,’ the Dagdae replied. ‘We do not have the power to give her to you,’ said Ailill and Medb. ‘Then the best thing would be to have the king of the síd called here,’ said the Dagdae. Ailill’s steward went to Ethal Anbúail and said ‘Ailill and Medb require that you come and speak with them.’ ‘I will not come,’ Ethal said, ‘and I will not give my daughter to the son of the Dagdae.’ The steward repeated this to Ailill, saying ‘He knows why he has bee summoned, and he will not come.’ ‘No matter,’ said Ailill, ‘for he will come, and the heads of his warriors with him.’ 

After that, Ailill’s household and the Dagdae’s people rose up against the sid and destroyed it; they brought out three score heads and confined the king to Crúachu. Ailill said to Ethal Anbúail ‘Give your daughter to the son of the Dagdae.’ ‘I cannot,’ he said, ‘for her power is greater than mine.’ ‘What great power does she have?’ Ailill asked. ‘Being in the form of a bird each day of one year and in human form each day of the following year,’ Ethal said. ‘Which year will she be in the shape of a bird?’ Ailill asked. ‘It is not for me to reveal that,’ Ethal replied. ‘Your head is off,’ said Ailill, ‘unless you tell us.’ ‘I will conceal it no longer, then, but will tell you, since you are so obstinate,’ said Ethal. ‘Next Samuin she will be in the form of a bird; she will be at Loch Bél Dracon, and beautiful birds will be seen with her, three fifties of swans about her, and I will make ready for them.’ ‘No matter that,’ said the Dagdae, ‘since I know the nature you have brought upon her.’ 

Peace and friendship were made among Ailill and Ethal and the Dagdae, then, and the Dagdae bade them farewell and went to his house and told the news to his son. ‘Go next Samuin to Loch Bél Dracon,’ he said, ‘and call her to you there.’ The Macc Oc went to Loch Bél Dracon, and there he saw the three fifties of white birds, with silver chains, and golden hair about their heads. Oengus was in human form at the edge of the lake, and he called to the girl, saying ‘Come and speak with me, Cáer!’ ‘Who is calling to me?’ sked Cáer. ‘Oengus is calling,’ he replied. ‘I will come,’ she said, ‘if you promise me that I may return to the water.’ ‘I promise that,’ he said. She went to him, then: he put his arms round her, and they slept in the form of swans until they had circles the lake three times. Thus, he kept his promise. They left in the form of two white birds and flew to Bruig ind Maicc Oic, and there they sang until the people inside fell asleep for three days and three nights. The girl remained with Oengus after that. This is how the friendship between Ailill and Medb and the Macc Oc arose, and this is why Oengus took three hundred to the cattle raid of Cúailnge. 

[tr.] Gantz, Jeffrey, Early Irish myths and sagas, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981.

Buy It Here (Amazon US)Buy It Here (Amazon UK)

Irish Pagan Podcasts

Listening to Irish Pagan Podcasts

These are not all Irish Pagan Podcasts specifically, but they will be of interest to those who want to authentically connect to Irish Paganism, and they do raise Irish voices offering quality historical and cultural information.

Story Archaeology Podcast

Uncovering the layers of Irish Mythology.  On this site, you will find a regular podcast and articles about Irish Pagan Mythology by the Story Archaeologists, Chris Thompson and Isolde Carmody.  This is the essential primer with regard to Irish pagan Podcasts. To find out what Story Archaeology is, and how we apply this method to the exploration of Irish stories, listen to this introductory mini-episode.

Bluiríní Béaloidis Podcast

This is the podcast from The National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin, and is a platform to explore Irish and wider European folk tradition across an array of subject areas and topics. Hosts Jonny Dillon and Claire Doohan hope this informal and friendly tour through the folklore furrow will appeal to those who wish to learn about the richness and depth of our traditional cultural heritage; that a knowledge and understanding of our past might inform our present and guide our future. Check it on Sound Cloud here.

Amplify Archaeology Podcast

A series of interviews with Neil Jackman and a number of Ireland’s archaeologists and specialists, to discuss the key periods in Ireland’s past, the different types of sites and artefacts and how people lived in the past. An insight into the profession and practice of archaeology, and the various techniques and scientific methods that help to build the picture of Ireland’s history. View the website here.

Your Irish Connection Podcast

With Irish Pagan Author and Guide Lora O’Brien. Authentic connection to Ireland with a native voice on mythology, indigenous spirituality, archaeology, history, culture, society, storytelling, and travel round the island. This one ticks the box for Irish Pagan Podcasts specifically – the first series is a reading of a dissertation on the Mórrígan – Listen Here.

Motherfoclóir Podcast

Behind the wall of grammar homework lies the amazing world of the Irish language, and Darach (that @theirishfor guy) wants to take you there. With a crack team of the internet’s soundest Irish speakers, Darach will explore topics like differences between the Irish and English versions of the Constitution, silent letters, Gaeilge and technology, how new words get added to the dictionary and which old words have fallen out. It’s an all slammer, no grammar half hour. Get it in your ears here.

The Irish Passport Podcast

It’s about the culture, history and politics of Ireland, with journalist Naomi O’Leary and lecturer Tim Mc Inerney. They tie current events to the history and culture that explain them. Get your passport to Ireland here.

Irish History Podcasts

Fin Dwyer is a historian, author and podcaster. There are hundreds of free podcasts on Irish History, including things like the story of the Norman Invasion to the Great Famine. Irish Pagans will be particularly interested in the Witches and Witchcraft series here.

Not exactly Irish Pagan Podcasts but…

If you like listening to Irish folk talk about topics relevant to Irish Paganism, or Paganism in general, you’ll enjoy my YouTube Channel here.

And if you want to know about Irish Paganism – Start Here!

What Are Pagan Beliefs?

What Are Pagan Beliefs?

Normally, questions come in from my Mailing List or YouTube comments, and I’ll answer them in blogs or videos, but I was a little unprepared to be asked the question: “What are Pagan beliefs?” while attending a recent Irish activism event.

Caught on the hop, I guess, would be a better description, as it was out of the usual context in which I answer questions on Paganism. Really, I have been preparing for questions like this since I picked up my first book on Paganism in 1994, at the age of 16.

That was a wonderful start actually: Vivianne Crowley’s excellent title “Phoenix From the Flame: Living as a Pagan in the 21st Century”.

[Get your Copy Here – https://amzn.to/2WsxzAg]

This book was lauded as ‘a fresh look at the most ancient religion – Paganism – the vital, widely practiced alternative to mainstream religion that heralds a return to ritual and reverence for the earth’.

It certainly opened my eyes to a whole new world, as I now had a name for the unusual beliefs and inclinations I’d had all my life, even while mired in the very mainstream religious practices and beliefs of (then) Catholic Ireland.

I’d been carrying Pagan beliefs in my heart and in my soul, without even knowing what they were.

What Are Pagan Beliefs in General?

The top 3 basics, the things most Pagan Beliefs will align on, are Polytheism, Pantheism, and Reverence for Nature or Nature Worshipping. We’ll get into what these mean specifically, in just a minute.

Because first, it’s important to say that not all Pagan Beliefs do align, or even look remotely similar, in some cases. There are many traditions, and many different ways to be Pagan, and some Pagans don’t follow any tradition or any set way at all.

I shouldn’t have to say it, but sadly – it needs saying again – I do not here, nor do I ever attempt or presume to, speak for ALL Pagans, Irish or otherwise. This blog, as with all my writing and educational materials, are an expression of my own understanding and experience on a given topic.

Historically speaking, all of our ancestors were Pagan, as we understand it. It’s an umbrella term that we now use for basically anything non-monotheistic – ie, belief in more than one, or multiple Gods.

When the big ‘belief in one God’ religions started coming in, humanity moved away from pretty much everyone being Pagan. Before the Abrahamic religions came along, our Gods were many.

Which gives us the definition for the first term we used up there, Polytheism.

Polytheism is the worship of or belief in multiple deities, which are usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals.

The definition of our second basic Pagan Belief – Pantheism – is a little trickier. This one is not specific to Paganism per se, so while many/most Pagans are Pantheists, not all Pantheists are Pagan.

Stick with me here.

Pantheism is the view that everything is part of an all-encompassing, immanent deity or Universal consciousness. All forms of reality and things within reality are then seen either modes of that Being, or identical with it.

What this means, practically, is that Pantheists see ‘God’ in everything – every rock, every river, every cloud, every insect, every elephant, every human.

The essence of all things IS divinity.

Pagans are pretty much down with this view in a majority, and it ties very well with the third of our basic Pagan Beliefs – reverence for Nature.

There are also some of those who follow the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) who may hold Pantheistic views… it all depends how you define God, right?!

What Are Pagan Beliefs About Nature?

Again, this varies, but there are a couple of mainstays.

Pagans will follow and attune to the natural year through both lunar and solar cycles. That is, the moon cycles – New, Waxing, Full, Waning, and Dark. And the sun cycles – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.

Depending on tradition and personal practice, there may be specific festivals, rituals, and observances that happen through these cycles.

[You can learn about our Irish Pagan Holidays Here]

Sometimes these cycles correspond with Deity, and a God or Goddess will be venerated or acknowledged as part of the celebration or observance.

[For example, many people work with the Mórrígan at Samhain (Hallowe’en). You can learn more about the Mórrígan at Samhain Here]

Another commonly held Pagan Belief is that the earth herself is sentient, and sacred, as well as all that lives upon her. The spirit of place is highly regarded to, with a particular reverence for certain ancient sites being widespread.

What Are Pagan Beliefs About Gods and Goddesses?

Perhaps the first thing that those only familiar with modern mainstream religions will find odd, or even unsettling, is the Pagan Belief in both Gods and Goddesses. There is a diversity and openness to deity in any form, or none, that is just not what many folk are used to any more.

Pagans can be members of traditions that venerate within certain cultural parameters. We see followers of Irish (most often spoken of as ‘Celtic’, even though this term is a little more complicated than they may understand), Norse, Egyptian, Greek/Hellenistic historic spiritual cultures or pantheons of Gods. As well as many others.

The questions of authentic connection to these cultures, and cultural Appropriation vs Appreciation, I have addressed elsewhere – please do go and find an awareness/understanding around these issues for yourself.

[Cultural Appreciation vs Cultural Appropriation on YouTube – https://youtu.be/8oC3dUqEXaY]

Some Pagans prefer to keep things much more open and unspecified, with beliefs in non personified or unnamed God and/or Goddess energies. We may see veneration of a ‘Great Goddess of All’, or a ‘Great Mother’, perhaps with a partner/consort ‘Great God’.

What are Pagan Beliefs About the ‘UnGods’?

Many Pagans work with both Gods, and UnGods (though they may not call them exactly this name!).

These beings and entities that don’t quite fall into the Deity categories may include our own particular ancestor spirits, the dead in general, fairies or ‘Otherworld’ folk of many cultures, and the personification or anthropomorphisation of natural features.

That’s a long word.

It means attributing human characteristics, behaviour or personalities to natural elements; such as geographical locations (a river, a mountain, an ocean even a city), or broad spirit types (fire spirit, wolf spirit, death spirit).

Those are the most basic Pagan Beliefs, in my experience, which may or may not apply to ALL Pagans, but will be held sacred by most of us, most of the time, in some form or another.

If you’d like to learn more about Irish Paganism in particular, here’s a good Introduction to Irish Paganism Class at the Irish Pagan School – https://irishpaganschool.com/p/pagan-intro.

And if you have any questions, I’ll be prepared for them in the comments below 😉

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